Having just finished his shift Monday afternoon as a hospital heating and cooling engineer, Robert J. Adams headed to Seņor Taco in a Rolling Meadows strip mall for an ice-cold drink on a steamy, hot day.
"I wanted to get a large horchata, which is almost like a rice or coconut milk," Adams says. "I would have grabbed a chorizo burrito, too, but I didn't have enough money."
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While waiting to use the Chase ATM next door to Seņor Taco, Adams saw something on the sidewalk a little behind the bright red Reflejos newspaper box.
"I see this plastic bag. It's clear plastic and it's half full of money," Adams says. "I figure this is a joke. Somebody took some napkins and made it look like money. This has to be a setup. People are going to look at me and start laughing."
Well, the story does make Rolling Meadows Police Chief Dave Scanlan smile.
"He sees a plastic bag full of money, picks it up and does one of these," Scanlan says, his head darting around in all directions as he imagines Adams' reaction.
"There's twenties and hundreds in it," Adams says. "It's been opened and has a big rubber band around it."
Inside are some receipts, a few checks and $17,021 in cash.
That is the moment, says Seņor Taco owner Onesimo Santillan, that a lesser man may have moseyed away with the bag of cash. Not Adams.
"It's not my money. I shouldn't take it. I don't care if you put another zero on there, I wasn't raised to take money that isn't mine," says Adams, a 54-year-old single man who lives in Arlington Heights and gives credit to his deceased parents for teaching him right from wrong. "If I saw you drop it, I'd say, 'Excuse me, sir. I think you dropped something.'"
The word "Chase" was printed on the bag, so Adams carried it inside the branch bank.
"I walk up to the teller and say, 'I think you might have left this outside,'" says Adams, figuring an employee left it outside after restocking the ATM. Bank employees told him the machine is filled from the inside and assured him that big bag of money didn't belong to the bank.
"So I get on my cellphone and call police," Adams says.
Police and Chase officials looked through the bills and accompanying paperwork, and determined the cash was meant for an ATM at a Walgreens in South suburban Midlothian and had been under the care of Loomis, the international armored truck company. Rolling Meadows police officer Steven Gizzi took the money back to the station, where it was picked up by an apparently grateful Loomis official.
"I thought the thing was real simple to start with," says Adams, who still has lots of questions about why he was left holding the bag. "How did it end up here?"
Asked that same question, a Loomis branch manager who asked not to be identified said the incident is under investigation. A message left with Loomis' U.S. office in Houston was not returned Wednesday.
Co-workers and friends suggested wild possibilities such as the money was about to be picked up by a drug dealer and Adams could have kept it, or that it would remain unclaimed and Adams would get to take the whole bundle home in six months. A few suggested Adams' honesty was the result of many nearby security cameras that recorded him picking up the bag.
"I learn how to read people because I'm in the business for a long time," says Santillan, 43, who has been running Seņor Taco for 11 years. "He (Adams) has been coming in for years, always orders the same thing, very nice guy. It's hard to find people like that, honest people."
And while honesty is its own reward, Adams says his friends have been asking him if he'll get a reward.
"I really don't know what happens with this situation," Adams says.
"We all said right away that this guy deserves something," Chief Scanlan says of the talk around the police station, "credit for being an Honest Abe."
Loomis is under no obligation to offer anything, but a 10 percent reward would provide Adams with enough cash to buy his usual chorizo burrito and large horchata every day from now until Jan. 5.