(GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo.) — A Colorado man granted a Christmas wish through an unlikely act of honesty and persistence. He returned $10,000 in cash to its rightful owner after finding it in two Caesar’s Palace envelopes at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
Mitch Gilbert, 55, was traveling home to Colorado with his wife from Las Vegas, where they had gone to run the Rock and Roll Marathon. As Gilbert was going through security, he saw two sealed envelopes from Caesar’s Palace left behind on a table.
“I’m just standing there figuring someone will turn around and I can hand them their envelope, but no one turned around,” Gilbert told ABC News. “I’m in Las Vegas. If I hold up the envelope and say, ‘Who lost money?’, everyone will say, ‘I did!’”
Gilbert said he wanted to return the envelopes but wanted to make sure they went to their rightful owner. After a few minutes passed, he put the envelopes with his belongings and went through security.
He quietly told his wife what had happened and they waited by security to see if someone would come back looking for the money.
“We sat there for 30 minutes until our plane was ready to take off,” he said. “No one ever came back. I was sure they would come back.”
Gilbert put the unopened envelopes in his backpack and decided he would take them home and call the airport from home. Back home in Greenwood Village, Colo., Gilbert and his wife opened the envelopes.
“I opened them up and saw the $5,000 in each one. I literally fell over. I was like, Oh my God,” he said. “I called the airport lost and found the next day and they said, ‘We’re sorry. We can’t help third parties,’” Gilbert said. “And I said, ‘Well you have to help me. If you had lost it, you’d want to make sure you got it back.’”
Gilbert did not give up and kept calling back for at least 30 days until someone reported the money missing. Finally, after convincing airport officials to give his phone number to anyone who inquired about the cash, Gilbert received a phone call from Ignacio Marquez of El Paso, Texas.
“I said, ‘I have every penny right here,’” Gilbert said. “He thanked me like five times, saying, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done for my family. This is the greatest Christmas present.’”
A grateful Marquez insisted that Gilbert accept a $1,000 reward, which he did, but said it “felt funny keeping it.”
He and Marquez arranged for Gilbert to deposit the money into his bank account. At the bank, Gilbert told the story to the teller and other customers overheard. People started shaking his hand and giving him hugs. Someone from the bank called a local news station and Gilbert’s story quickly spread.
Gilbert has been “shocked” by the reaction he has been getting, saying it has been “absolutely insane.”
“I’m getting emails from people all over the country thanking me, blessing me for doing the right thing, for teaching a lesson to children,” Gilbert said.
“I did it for two reasons. First, every time I put myself in the guy’s shoes, I would get sick to my stomach and I knew that I would hope to God that somebody would find me or turn it in,” Gilbert said. “The second reason—and both are equally important—is that I wanted to set a good example for my kids. As a family thing, I wanted to do the right thing.”
Gilbert said he has had friends ask him if he took a “stupid pill” or got hit on the head with a “stupid stick” for not keeping the money.
“Most people admit to me that they never would have given it back, especially after one call to the airport,” Gilbert said. “But I’m in residential real estate. I see a lot of people go through hardships. I mean, I could use ten grand, but it wasn’t my money. That was the bottom line.”
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Alanna Petroff, CNN
Eli Watkins, CNN