What’s the law on ‘finders keepers’?

OKEECHOBEE — “Finders keepers, losers weepers!” We’ve all said it at one time or another, but do we really mean it? Where do we draw the line? If someone finds my stuff, am I OK with him keeping it, or am I only OK with him keeping the other guy’s stuff? Is it only OK if the stuff belongs to a big corporation? Is it only OK if the person who lost it was negligent when he lost it? What does the law say?

Recently, a 61-year-old Okeechobee man with no criminal history in over 40 years was arrested and charged with grand theft after he allegedly walked out of Walmart with a Walmart grocery bag filled with money. He found this bag sitting beside a cash register after a manager accidentally left it there. Video evidence reportedly shows the man look inside the bag, so it would appear he knew the money was in there when he took it.

Comments on Facebook are overwhelmingly on the side of the man, with many coming forward to express astonishment that he would do such a thing because they have known him for many years and believe he is a wonderful man. Most blame the manager and feel she put a temptation in front of him he couldn’t resist. The term “finders keepers” was mentioned, and several expressed the belief that what he’d done was not a crime.

Austyn Rhett said, “Don’t seem like he stole it, just found the bag and figured it was his lucky day. Hope they give him a break. I woulda took it, too.”

Daniel Ciorrocco said, “More like ‘found’ bag of cash. Was it wrong to take it? Yes, not the moral thing to do. But illegal? No way. That’s not right to be arrested for finding money left by someone.”

Patrick C. Van Tassell said, “This falls under the Finders Keepers Law of America. A classic non-story.”

LaWanda McPeak Sanders said, “That’s found money, not stolen money. How was he supposed to know it belonged to Walmart? If I found a bag of cash laying around I’d take it, too. It wasn’t in a money bag; it was in a Walmart shopping bag!”

No matter what we may want to believe, the law is the law is the law, and that is what the police must follow.

According to Detective Bill Saum of the Okeechobee Police Department, although he understands what people are saying about “Finders keepers,” taking something that doesn’t belong to you is theft.

He said: “When you find a bag with money in it, obviously, that is somebody’s, and obviously, it’s not yours. In this case, obviously, it wasn’t his, and his responsibility would have been to go to Walmart, to any of their personnel, and say, ‘Hey, I found this money.’ If you found money alongside the road, you’re changing your tire and find a couple bucks lying there, or a gun or a baby doll, or somebody’s lunch, the reality is, any piece of property belongs to someone. Otherwise, we could just walk onto a piece of property and build a house. Somebody owns it. Even when things are found in the trash, you have to use common sense. Say I was a dumpster diver, and I am at a consignment store, and while I am looking in their dumpster, I find a bag of money. Now, realistically, shouldn’t my first thought be, ‘Oh shoot, they threw their money away by accident. They are going to miss this.’ Obviously, I know it’s not mine, and just because I found it in a dumpster, that doesn’t make it mine if not criminally, then at least morally. There are times you might find a $5 bill on the floor and get away with sticking it in your pocket, and I am going to say it that way because that’s what it is, but our responsibility is if we don’t know who it belongs to, then turn it in to an authority. If you are outside, turn it in to the police, and if you are inside, turn it in to the store personnel. Their responsibility is to keep it for a certain amount of time, and there are found property laws that say how long something has to be kept. The police department evidence room has laws on how long found property has to be kept in case the owner shows up. After a certain amount of time, the person who found it can put in a claim for it. So, really and truly, ‘finders keepers, losers weepers,’ is not real.”

Almost everyone who responded to the reports on social media seem to feel compassion for the man who was arrested. He is 61 years old with a clean record, and the temptation was just too great for him, but no matter how you look at it, it was a crime. If the money had been in a purse, a wallet or a bank bag, or maybe if the money belonged to an elderly woman instead of to a corporation, possibly everyone would have been more inclined to be harder on him, but the money was in a Walmart bag, and it belonged to Walmart.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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