Stacy Knutson, a waitress at the Moorhead Fryin' Pan in Moorhead, Minn., served a customer in Nov. 2010 who left a take-out box behind.
Upon noticing the box, she went out to the parking lot to bring it to the woman, reported MSNBC
Reportedly, the customer said, "No, I am good, you keep it."
When Knutson went back inside and opened the box, she was astonished to find it contained $12,000 cash. Trying to do the right thing, she contacted police. Police seized the cash and said she could keep it if no one came forward to claim it in 60 days.
The two months came and went and Knutson was allegedly told she had to wait 90 days. Eventually authorities told her she couldn't have the money after all because it was suspected drug money, saying it smelled of marijuana.
Local publication Inforum
reported Knutson hired an attorney and she filed suit in Clay County District Court saying the cash was given to her and police "shouldn’t have seized it as drug money."
“Even though I desperately needed the money as my husband and I have 5 children, I feel I did the right thing by calling Moorhead Police,” Knutson said in the lawsuit.
Police said the money was part of an ongoing investigation relating to a narcotics case. No one believes Knutson had anything to do with drugs. In fact, they gave her a $1,000 reward.
Inforum reported Knutson's attorney, Craig Richie, said this refusal of giving the finder money back after going unclaimed could set a bad precedent, noting this type of seizure might discourage people from turning in found money.
"They initially said they were going to give it to her,” said Richie to CBS News
. “Then they said, ‘Oh, well, no we had the drug dogs sniff it and we think there’s drugs on it and we are going to keep it.’”
“That would mean that any money that ever had any drugs on it could be confiscated by the police at any time,” Richie said. “You know how ridiculous that would be?”
Inforum published a follow up story
which reported authorities said earlier this week they could not connect the money to a criminal investigation and would cut Knutson a check for $12,000.
While the story has a happy ending for the woman and her family, local officials have taken a lot of heat over this situation.
Assistant Clay County Attorney Michelle Lawson said “This fantastic police department has received more messages and more calls today that are negative and menacing and threatening,” she said. “Shame on people for that.”
Knutson and her family are reportedly struggling financially, this money will help them tremendously. It was also said it was well-known that the family was having a tough time.
The unidentified donor remains anonymous.
Richie said in almost 40 years of practicing law, this type of case was a first, but that Knutson's faith the "right thing" would ultimately happen never wavered.
"Integrity has now prevailed," he told CBS