My View by Sandra

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Would you keep money you found?

A California man, Eli Estrada, found $140,000 in unmarked bills on the road. There was absolutely no way he would have been caught if he had kept it. It had fallen off the bumper of a Brink’s truck. Brinks denied it was theirs and Bank of America (the true owners) denied it was theirs.

His friends and many who have read about it or who have seen it on the news, think he was crazy to turn the money in. I imagine in this day and age, with all the video cameras around, you would first wonder if you’d been “punked” or if you’re older – that you were on “Candid Camera”. I imagine wondering if you were going to get caught would be first and foremost in you mind.

Or, if you’d read recently about the sting operation of the local police department in the Antelope Valley (California) at the mall, you’d really have second thoughts about keeping it. Police planted an agent at a table in the food court of the mall. The agent “accidently” dropped the wallet and left. When people picked up the wallet and either left or failed to rush to catch the agent to return the wallet, they were arrested. I kid you not. One woman had four children with her. The youngest was going through potty training and needed to be taken to the restroom immediately. The mother felt this was more important and that the wallet could be dealt with afterward. Nope. She was arrested in front of her children and taken to jail.

My question is: would you return the money you found on the street? And, what do you think of the story of the four who are facing charges because they were set up at a mall and didn’t return a wallet fast enough.

Since you’re probably thinking I’m exaggerating the story of the “wallet sting” and perhaps have some of my facts confused – below is the story as it appeared in the Valley Press on March 5, 2008.
Four arrested in dropped-wallet sting
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press
Wednesday, March 5, 2008.

Valley Press Staff Writer
PALMDALE – Four women were arrested Friday on grand theft charges in a sting operation set up to determine whether individuals would turn in a bag or wallet containing $400 to Antelope Valley Mall personnel or law enforcement officials.

However, some of the women believe they were wrongly arrested and never given the chance to hand over the bag or wallet to authorities.

“They were given the opportunity to turn in the property,” said Deputy Charles Lemke of the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station. “There is no particular prescribed method in how we do it.”

Individuals were arrested if they picked up the property and tried to conceal it or didn’t immediately turn it over to authorities, who Lemke said were walking around the mall during Friday’s sting operation.

An armed uniformed deputy or security guard, he said, walked up and stood next to the individuals who picked up the wallet.

“They made themselves very known,” Lemke said.

Martha Valadez , 39, is one of those who believes she wasn’t given a chance to turn in the wallet.

“It was like entrapment,” she said. “I feel like it is an injustice to all of us.”

The mother of four, ages 2½, 7, 10 and 12, said she was sitting in the mall’s food courtyard, feeding her three daughters and watching her son, who was inside a game store adjacent to the courtyard.

Valadez said a woman, to whom she said she didn’t pay much attention, was sitting across from her. She said she glanced back in the woman’s direction, but all she saw was a brown checked wallet.

Valadez said she didn’t see the woman leave the table, but Lemke maintained, “She (Valadez) watched the individual actually stand up and walk away.”

Valadez said when she saw the wallet, she instantly thought of turning it into authorities. She told one of her daughters to pick up the wallet, but the girl said she was embarrassed to do so.

“We have always turned in things we find,” she said. “I have always taught my children to return something they found.”

After the daughter finally grabbed the wallet, Valadez said her youngest child, who is being potty trained, asked to use the restroom.

Valadez said she took the wallet from her daughter, then asked her son to hold onto it as she balanced the youngest on her hip.

She and her children headed to a restroom in the hopes of getting into a stall before her daughter soiled herself, she said.

When she walked out of the restroom, two men in plain clothes displayed badges and told her to follow them into a office, where they questioned her.

She told them she intended to turn in to wallet to the proper authorities, but her daughter had to use the restroom.

“It’s not an excuse, it’s the truth,” Valadez said. “They didn’t even give me a chance to turn it in.

“I didn’t even open it and I don’t even know what kind of information was inside.”

Hortencia Huidor , 38, and her mother, Hortencia Diaz , 60, also had no clue what was inside a wallet and shopping bag they found at a water fountain, the younger woman said.

“We didn’t even open the wallet,” Huidor said.

Huidor said she; her mother; her husband, Jesse; and the couple’s children had gone to the mall to buy a skateboard for her son.

While Huidor’s children and husband were inside a skateboard shop, she and her mother, who had come from San Diego to visit her that same day, walked over to a water fountain, she said.

Her mother sat down to rest while a woman beside them rifled through a purse, she said.

Huidor said she returned to the fountain after trying to buy her mother a soda from a cookie shop, when she saw the woman was gone and had left behind a plastic bag and wallet.

Huidor told her mother to pick up the bag and wallet so they could turn it over to the service desk.

Huidor and her mother went inside the skateboard shop first to get her children and husband.

She said noticed a security guard enter the shop, then walk out.

Huidor said she didn’t tell the guard about the wallet and bag due to a previous experience in which she was told by a security officer to turn in a found object to the service desk, she said.

Two men in plain clothes with badges entered the skateboard shop and asked if she picked up a wallet, grabbing her and her mother.

“They didn’t give us a chance to say anything,” Huidor said.

She said she told deputies, “You have no proof that I wasn’t going to turn it in.”

The fourth woman arrested was Baudelia Alcaraz , 44, Lemke said.

Five people immediately turned over the found property to authorities during the sting operation, Lemke said.

One of the women arrested actually opened the wallet and took money out of it as she was being followed by deputies, the deputy said.

The operation was the second of its kind, he said. Supported by mall security and personnel, it was conducted by the sheriff’s station’s Partners for a Better Palmdale deputies to determine if individuals misappropriated found property or committed grand theft, Lemke said.

“We are trying to make the mall a safer place for everybody,” he said. “We want people to have a conscience to turn in property to the proper authorities.”

Mall General Manager Keith Geiger said he wouldn’t comment on his personal opinions about the sting operation.

“I think that if the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station found a need for it, then I supported them,” he said.

Valadez said she now questions whether she should have taken her daughter to the bathroom or first have gone to authorities with the wallet.

“I had been working really hard to get her potty trained, and I just wanted to take her so that she would learn how to go to the bathroom herself,” she said. “I just didn’t think about turning in the wallet first.”

Valadez, who also was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, said she and her children are emotionally drained.

“What people want is the best for their kids,” she said. “Why would I put them in that situation?”


April 10, 2008 Posted by | The News | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adam and Julianne off Dancing with the Stars – sadly.

I’ve got to be one of the worst bloggers in history because I’m not scheduled properly. But, I am a blogger and that’s what counts. I think.

The top things in my head today:

1. Adam and Julianne left Dancing with the Stars. That made me sad. I loved watching them, and I loved their humor. Excellent. Priscilla is sort of creeping me out with her lack of “shine”. Nice lady. Good at her age to be on there, but she just doesn’t seem to want me to vote for her. My faves right now (since I can change weekly) – Shannon and Derek. They got 5 of my votes this week. Gave the other four to Adam and Julianne. Sigh.

April 9, 2008 Posted by | Favorite Sites | Leave a comment