Fresno man finds, returns Brinks bag with $125,000 in cash

The Fresno BeeMay 29, 2014 

Joe Cornell back at work on a Salvation Army lot near downtown Fresno on Thursday, May 29, 2014, two days after he found a Brinks bag on a nearby street with about $125,000 in it. Cornell returned the money and now is in line for a $5,000 reward, the company says.

GEORGE HOSTETTER — The Fresno Bee

Joe Cornell could have yielded to temptation when he found a bag full of money in downtown Fresno. He didn't, and it's paying off for him.

Cornell found a bag with about $125,000 that had fallen off a Brinks armored car in downtown Fresno. Keep it or return it? He decided on the latter course, and now Brinks officials say they'll give Cornell a $5,000 reward.

"It was the right thing to do," Cornell said Thursday afternoon.

Brinks officials are breathing a sigh of relief.

"Mr. Cornell did the right thing," Brinks spokesman Ed Cunningham said. "For that, we are grateful."

Brinks also will donate $5,000 in Cornell's name to the local Salvation Army, Cunningham said.

The unusual series of events began at about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Cornell was working at a Salvation Army lot on Ventura Avenue, next to the Highway 41 overpass and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks.

Cornell, 52, said he's four months into a six-month Salvation Army substance-abuse rehabilitation program. His duties include the care of trailers donated for resale. The trailers are stored on the lot.

A Brinks truck headed east on Ventura pulled up to a red light near the lot. Then a car stopped next to the truck. People in the car said something to the Brinks driver. Cornell said he could hear the voices but couldn't make out the words.

"I thought, 'That's strange,' " Cornell said.

The light turned green and the Brinks truck moved on. Cornell said the exchange between the two vehicles made him look west on Ventura, where the truck had been.

"Sure enough, there was a big bag laying in the road, next to the curb," Cornell said.

Cornell speculates the bag fell out of the truck as it crossed the railroad tracks. Whatever the reason, Cornell decided to explore. He grabbed a broom and garbage pail, then began cleaning the curb. He made his way to the bag.

"I picked up the bag," Cornell said. "I saw twenties and hundreds. The whole thing was full of money."

Cornell hauled the broom, garbage pail and sack of cash back to the trailer he uses as headquarters for his maintenance chores.

"I started crying and shaking," Cornell said. "Everything was going through my mind -- the good devil/bad devil thing. What to do? I have a grandbaby due any time, my fourth. I thought, 'What would I want her to think of me?' That made up my mind right there. I got on my radio and called my boss. 'Hey, I found a bag of money.'

"I think they thought I was kidding."

The boss told Cornell to bring the bag to a nearby Salvation Army office.

"I went down there carrying the bag like I was Santa Claus," Cornell said. "It was heavy."

Things moved swiftly. A police cadet arrived, saw the pile of cash and called for backup. Sworn officers showed up, followed closely by a couple of Brinks officials.

Word spread of Cornell's successful fight against temptation.

"A lot of people come by to shake my hand," he said.

Brinks spokesman Cunningham declined to say how one of his armored trucks could lose a bag with $125,000 of greenbacks in downtown Fresno and not know it until Joe Cornell came to the rescue. Cunningham said the mishap is a security issue.

Lost bags of dough "happen from time to time," Cunningham said.

Cornell knows all about temptation. He said he was born in Las Vegas. He said he married, had a son and a daughter, but couldn't shake the booze and drugs.

The law told him to report to the Salvation Army and get straightened out.

A big bag of money lost by a big company in the middle of a big city really doesn't present much of a moral quandary for a thinking man, Cornell said.

"They're going to back-track," Cornell said. "There are cameras everywhere now. You'd be doing federal time. And it's the right thing to do."

Cornell said he hasn't heard a word from Brinks, but assumes the company's promise of a $5,000 reward will be kept. He said he's looking forward to completing the rehab program and leaving for good the world of booze/drugs.

"I'm trying to finally clean it up," Cornell said. "I've been battling this for a long time."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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