Linen workers return $3,500 in cash, keeping clean consciences

Friday, May 2, 2003

If it had gone unnoticed at Tipton Linen & Uniform Service, it could easily have become laundered money.

Or if people less honest than Mary Sample or Roberta Brown had found $3,500, it could have become pocketed money.

Instead, in the two recent instances when Brown and Sample found $2,000 and $1,500 respectively, they turned it in and the money found its way back into the hands of the rightful owners.

"I find change all the time, five dollars, maybe twenty, but never a big amount like that," said Sample, who has worked at the business at 1415 Independence for 35 years. "I didn't even stop to think. I just turned it in."

In early March, Sample was busy sorting linens that had dropped from an overhead bag when she noticed a $50 bill near a freezer bag filled with money.

Through the company's tracking measures -- each bag has a tag with a bar code -- it was determined that the money came from a Captain D's Seafood in St. Louis. It was returned.

In Brown's case, on Monday she discovered a torn envelope that had $1,500 tucked inside. With that kind of temptation, some would have quickly shoved the money into their pockets.

"I thought that," she admitted. "But I just couldn't do it."

Brown, who has worked at Tipton's 24 years, said she wasn't raised that way.

The money found by Brown had been left behind at King Louie's restaurant in St. Louis by prominent St. Louis developer Pete Rothschild. It was promptly returned to him.

"I was having a nervous breakdown," Rothschild said. "It is absolutely frustrating and you feel like such an idiot."

When the owner of the restaurant called and said the money was returned, Rothschild, who said it was rent money he intended to deposit, said he was thrilled.

"Isn't that a lovely thing to do?" he said. "But it's not shocking. I always expect the best out of people. Sometimes I'm disappointed but in this one instance, it was just absolutely heartwarming. People like that are just the salt of the earth."

Owner Tom Tipton gave both of the women $100 rewards. Sample was also sent a $50 gift certificate for Applebee's from Captain D's.

"I'm not surprised that they turned it in," Tipton said. "They're honest people and that's very typical of Tipton employees."

Tipton said that they find all sorts of items left in linens that mostly come from restaurants. He said they clean 350,000 pieces a week. They've found things one would expect from restaurants like plates and -silverware, but they've also come across unusual items -- soccer balls, dentures, jewelry, needles, and once even underwear.

"We've seen it all here," he said.

Of his 2,000 clients, about half are from St. Louis, he said. Tipton employs about 70 people.

"We have people turn in stuff all the time -- expensive jewelry, things like that," Tipton said. "I'm fortunate to have such honest employees."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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