Today: A remarkable act of honesty by a poor dishwasher.
What if you were by yourself at a bus stop and an armored truck rumbled by and dropped a big bag of money. And what if you were poor and the money belonged to a corporate giant.
Would you keep the money or return it?
This dilemma confronted Ascension Franco Gonzales, a 22 year old undocumented restaurant dishwasher sitting at a bus stop in Los Angeles one August night in 2001.
Stunned by what turned out to be $203,000, Ascension took a cab home to a run-down inner city apartment he shared with five other men. Together they discussed what to do with the money. Some thought it was a gift from God and that he should graciously accept it.
He decided to sleep on it and make a decision the next morning.
But sleep didn’t come easy. Ascension came to California two years earlier from a poor Mexican farming town, Tepeapulco where opportunity is scarce.
His parents couldn’t afford to educate him beyond grade school and he worked as a carpenter, as his father did, when work was available.
Ascension’s mother cleaned houses to help make ends meet and he promised her he would one day help to build a nice home for her.
But with a scarcity of jobs, Ascension came to Los Angeles, where he worked 10 hours a day, six days a week for $1300 a month in a Chinese restaurant. He lived frugally and often sent as much as $600 home each month.
But suddenly destiny had given him a staggering sum of money. So much that he could build his mother her cinder block dream home and provide a secure nest egg for his family. Ascension could return to Tepeapulco, a city of 45,000 people, and be a hero.
However, the next morning when Ascension awoke he turned on the TV and all over the news was the story of the missing $203,000. The armored car company was offering a $25,000 reward for its return.
But what really grabbed Ascension’s attention was a question raised in a news story. Was there anyone out there honest enough to return the money?
Ascension then knew what he had to do. He called the police. Fearful of the INS seizing him and deporting him, he met the police at a nearby baseball field.
There he handed them a laundry bag filled with the money and explained how he got it.
“I find it really hard to believe in this day and age that we have someone honest enough to turn in $203, 000,” police Sgt. Rick Sanchez told the Los Angeles Times. “He upholds the highest honor of anybody.”
Through the police came Ascension’s $25,000 reward. But with it came the news media and soon his story was all over the world. Under the circumstances the INS took no action.
When the story was broadcast on television in Tepeapulco, his mother Paula Gonzales told the Times, “I cried of joy.”
And with humor, she added, “He seemed a little gordito,” (chubby), in reference to him appearing on TV heavier than he was the when she last saw him two years earlier.
“I thought it was a miracle from God – that God illuminated the path for him. We’re very proud of our son. Honesty is something we inculcated in him.”
But there were critics. His father, Liberio Sergio Franco Gonzales said some family members and others felt “he should have come back with the money.” Some critics called him “un buey,” (an ox) meaning an idiot. But his father too was proud of him.
“It’s easy for people to tell you what you should have done,” Ascension replied to his critics. “It’s not their life. I tell them it’s so easy huh? They weren’t in my skin.”
Ascension was thankful to receive his $25,000 reward, paid $8,000 in federal and state taxes and check cashing fees and he now had the money to begin construction of his mother’s dream home telling reporters he would likely return home to do so.
“Yes, they criticize him,” his father remarked. “But many also congratulate us for having such a son. They speak to us with respect. And those who talk bad, they see the house, and their mouth falls.”
Success Tip of the Week:
Poverty can cause a person to become an undocumented worker in a foreign land and keep him from his family for an extended time. Ascension’s story personalizes it but there are millions more like him. Hopefully his story will help us to feel compassion for them.
Thank you to Los Angeles Times writer Hector Becerra for his help in telling today’s story. To see the original articles Hector wrote or co-wrote, and from which the quotes were taken please see:
“After Agonizing, He Turns in Lost $203,000: Ethics: After cash fell into his hands dishwasher searched his heart; called police.” [8/29/01] [Please note, this story requires a Yahoo sign in] http://groups.yahoo.com/adultconf?dest=%2Fgroup%2FMuktoChinta%2Fauth%3Fdone%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fgroups%2Eyahoo%2Ecom%252Fgroup%252FMuktoChinta%252Fmessage%252F41.
In the next KazanToday:
A mysterious 84-year-old unsolved mystery about all-time best selling mystery writer Agatha Christie.
“Ballad of the Poor Samaritan.” [8/2/02] http://articles.latimes.com/2002/aug/02/local/me-franco2.
Editor’s Note: II Hector did not know what became of Ascension. I think he most likely returned to his family in Mexico. But in these tough economic times, if he returns to the U.S. and I meet him, I am going to shake his hand and express my appreciation for his honesty.