If You Find Money, Are You Legally Required To Turn It In?

A Virginia family found bags containing nearly one million dollars cash in the middle of the road and turned it in to their local Sheriff’s department. Were they legally required to do so? Attorney Paul Harding of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP helps explain the issue on PYX106.

Please give it a listen or read the transcript below.

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Interviewer: It’s 1800LAW1010, 1800LAW1010.com. Paul Harding, from Martin, Harding & Mazzotti on the phone. How’s the opening up going, Paul?

Paul: It’s going good. Good, good, good. It’s back. And, you know, after the first week you start kind of forgetting that you weren’t there for a while. Yeah, it feels good.

Interviewer: Oh, I thought you meant like forgetting to be… Like, me, when you say forgetting, that means complacent, meaning, I forget to wear my mask. And that’s… That’s not what you meant.

Paul: Well, I didn’t admit to it, but, yeah, that’s happening, too. To some degree, all of a sudden, I’m walking out of my office and, of course, I set the rules that when you’re kind of on your feet, you’re walking in your office, you have to have a mask on. And then it’s me. Right? You know, they’re looking at me as the guy who kind of said, “Let’s do this.” And then I quickly put one on. But just this uncomfortability of being back, I think the first couple of days people felt like it was a foreign place, and that evaporated quickly.

Interviewer: Did you bring everyone back, Paul, or are you doing it piecemeal?

Paul: We’re doing a bit of a piecemeal, but more than we thought, you know, it’s about 70%, because we put it out there and nearly everyone wanted to come back. So, we were, like, “Oh, who do we pick? You know, who are our favorite kids?” You know? And so, we were going to go 50% and then we went to 70%, and then we’re going to just increase it till we get full capacity as the summer progresses.

Interviewer: Well, let’s see, we saw this story last week, and we were thinking about a story that happened on Sunday, where a guy found a treasure, but that was purposely left behind. So, the family finds a million dollars in cash in the middle of the road, they turn it into their local sheriffs. Did they have to turn it in? Are they obligated to get a piece of it? They were driving down the highway. They ran over it on the turnpike or something.

Male: From the post office?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah. It’s a moral obligation. Right? So, what do you do when you find… They thought it was trash. These are good people, right? There’s a lot of cars avoiding these bags. They say, “Hey, there’s bags in the road. We’re going to go clean them up.” So, they go pick up the bags, bring them home. By the time they get home, they go to throw it out and realize it’s money and there’s envelopes and all that.

Well, the rule in New York is a rule that’s pretty much throughout the country that changes a little bit. But if you find, you know, $20 or more, you actually have 10 days to report it to the police or to find the owner. And New York’s got this thing that if you don’t do it, technically, no want will prosecute. You could be fined up to $100, or six months in jail by keeping money that you know isn’t yours.

Male: Interesting.

Interviewer: So, you would only need to pay 100 bucks to get a million bucks if you just…if you never took it in and pretended to look for the owner.

Male: Interesting question.

Paul: You know, you do the math like that you’re not going to earn a million in six months, probably. So, even if you had the worst sentence, yeah, it might be worth doing it. So, yeah, they did it, but they, you know, it’s funny when you find the money like that, you always think it’s going to be some kind of a really mystery here, or it’s going to be maybe drug money, or maybe it’s going to be something with some excitement around it.

It looks to be, they haven’t admitted yet. Although maybe you know more than I do on this, that the postal service is kind of trying to figure out where it comes and probably fell out of one of those armor trucks.

Interviewer: See, I read that it was a postal truck who dropped it. And it was very confusing. There were two bags, like, it surprised me that it would be a postal truck. You can’t trust those guys that are carrying a million bucks.

Male: I totally trust the postal service.

Interviewer: I mean, I trust them, but, I mean, their own safety…

Male: It might have been stamp money, man. It might have been stamp money. The point is you should return it, but you don’t have to. That’s what I’m getting out of this.

Male: A million bucks you might want to.

Paul: You sort of do have to return it, but you might get it back, right? So, it depends on, if it’s over $5,000, you have to wait 3 years. If no one claims it, it’s yours, right? So, smaller amounts or shorter time, $100 is 3 months, between $100 and $500 is 6 months.

But so, you do the right thing, you don’t go to jail, and if no one claims the million dollars, or in this case million dollars, at the end of the three-year period, you go show up, say, “This is me. I found it. Here’s my receipt.”

Interviewer: Plus interest.

Paul: And it’s yours. I don’t think there’s an interest component. No, I think they’re holding onto that.

Interviewer: Bastards.

Paul: I know there’s always a catch, and so get that million dollars.

Interviewer: Paul, we appreciate the info this morning. Thanks for the time.

Male: Thanks, Paul. We appreciate it. Have a good one, man.

Paul: Absolutely. Have a good day.

Interviewer: It’s Paul Harding, Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, 1800LAW1010, 1800LAW1010.com.