In the three weeks since this column told the story of how Robert J. Adams found a bag with $17,021 in cash and turned it over to police, the 54-year-old Arlington Heights man has been featured in newspapers around the world, given interviews to radio and TV stations, hailed as a hero on websites, received a gift basket and small gifts from strangers, been the object of romantic inquiries, has repeatedly asked about a reward and has even drawn high praise from a nun for being so honest.
After a thorough police investigation and a lengthy interview with the FBI and Rolling Meadows police detectives, Adams' true honesty led to him being charged with filing a false police report and ordered to pay a $500 fine.
Having already confessed to Rolling Meadows Police Chief David J. Scanlan, Sgt. Thomas Gadomski of the investigations unit and detective Phil Barrile, Adams is given a chance to confess to me and explain how the story he told to all of us was a lie.
"That's fair enough," Adams says Wednesday afternoon in an interview room at the Rolling Meadows Police Department. "I'm very sorry. … I have a better appreciation of how people sometimes trying to do something, do something else."
The original column told how Adams, having just finished his shift on a Monday afternoon as a heating and cooling engineer for a hospital, was outside Senor Taco in Rolling Meadows when he found a bag with cash and checks near a Chase ATM. He took the bag into the bank, called police to tell them he found the money, which was traced to an ATM in a Walgreens in South suburban Midlothian, and drew widespread praise for being an honest man.
"It was making me something I am not," Adams says quietly about the story he wove back on June 6. "Much like everyone else, I am human."
The truth -- ferreted out after an investigation that took hours of police work ("Too many," Chief Scanlan says) and a security camera recording from the Midlothian Walgreens -- is that Adams took that bag of money in Midlothian.
"I see it. I picked it up. I walk out in the parking lot," Adams says. "It's pretty obvious I'm on security cameras. … Of course, 20-20 hindsight, I should have gone back into Walgreens and turned it in."
Instead, "I started thinking like the 54-year-old man I am," Adams says, explaining how, even though he is single, he didn't want to explain that he had taken half a day off work in a failed hope to visit a much younger woman in Midlothian. "As to why I didn't just go back in and turn it in, I don't have the answer for that."
He blames the heat, the traffic, his poor judgment and "the one side of my brain" that's "a little Blagojevich-like."
"Maybe it's from the way the world is or watching too much TV, but in my mind, it was going to turn out the way it is today," he says, referring to all the questions he'd didn't want to answer. "Of course I could have done that."
Adams says law enforcement officials (who, as Gadomski says, made sure "all the ducks were in a row") asked him if he thought of keeping the money. While security footage shows Adams grabbing the bag, looking around him and quickly exiting the Walgreens, the man says he quickly dismissed any thoughts of stealing.
"I did want to return the money. That's the truth," Adams says, noting that the Loomis armored car company that apparently left the bag next to the ATM did get back the bag he took with no money missing.
Police initially hailed Adams for being "an Honest Abe," but Scanlan said they weren't going to close the case without getting to the bottom of how a bag of misplaced money got from Midlothian to Rolling Meadows.
"We filed charges because he lied to us and filed a false police report," Scanlan says.
"My world most of the time is pretty uninvolved," Adams says, noting that he got caught up in his lie. Scanlan says the FBI, Loomis and other parties worked together to get the truth.
"I guess the lesson is, at some point, you have to tell the truth about everything," Adams says, admitting that "I probably should" return gifts and money sent to him, and figure out something to say to the nun who praised him for being honest.
Why did he accept the honesty accolades from people across the nation and as far away as Australia and Ireland for a tale he knew was a lie?
"I guess it was a good story. It made people think there were honest people in the world," Adams says, his voice growing softer.
"If you can tell me how that story isn't true," he says, repeating something about the money getting back to its owner before his voice fades to nothing.
Knowing this column might earn him as much publicity as the first one did, and that people will make the same snap judgments about his character, Adams shrugs.
"Much like I tell people when they tell me what they would have done," Adams says, "just see what happens when it happens to you."
That part of his story has never changed.