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Students find $40k hidden in couch, return it to elderly widow

Published time: May 15, 2014 22:42
Edited time: May 16, 2014 09:06
AFP Photo / Omar Torres

AFP Photo / Omar Torres

Three roommates in New York state unwittingly made perhaps the wisest investment of their lives when they bought a used couch for $20, only to discover $40,000 in cash stashed inside. The honest students then returned the money to its rightful owner.

Reese Werkhoven, a New York City native attending the state university at New Paltz, and his two roommates – Cally Guasti and Lara Russo – were shopping at a second-hand store when they found a perfect couch for their home.

It’s pretty ugly and it smells,” Russo told LittleRebellion.com, a student-run blog. “But it was the only couch that fit the right dimensions for our living room.”

When the trio sat down for the first time, Werkhoven noticed a plastic envelope containing a thick stack of twenty dollar bills adding up to $700.

I almost peed,” he said. “The most money I’d ever found in a couch was like fifty cents. Honestly, I’d be ecstatic to find just $5 in a couch.”

Understandably thrilled, the friends immediately tore through the couch and discovered two additional cash-stuffed envelopes, finding a total of approximately $40,000. A woman’s name was scrawled on the outside of one of the envelopes and, after consulting with each other and their families, the friends decided it would be best to get in touch with her.

We had a lot of moral discussions about the money,” Russo told the blog. “We all agreed that we had to bring the money back to whoever it belonged to…it’s their money – we didn’t earn it. However, there were a lot of gray areas we had to consider.”

The woman, who the group worried was some kind of drug kingpin or bank robber, turned out to be an elderly widow whose husband gave her money each week in the years before his death. Instead of depositing the cash into a savings account, she stored it in the couch. But when she was hospitalized for a heart operation, her daughter – unaware of the money – donated the sofa to the New Paltz Salvation Army.

I think the part of this whole experience that cleared away my prior thoughts and worries was when I saw the woman’s daughter and granddaughter greet us at the door,” Werkhoven said. “I could just tell right away that these were nice people.”

The widow, a former florist who wished to remain anonymous, gave each student a $1,000 reward.

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