Life presents us with a lot of temptation; chief among the lust list - money. So what would you do if you stumbled upon a wallet full of cash?
Fifteen people across Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan now know their moral decision, or lack thereof, because of our three part series: The Honesty Test.
The setup process started with the purchase of 15 identical skate-board-themed children’s wallets from Toys “R” Us. NewsCenter 16 stuffed each wallet with a Property of form listing the name Kane Johnson and a phone number to call if found. In attempt to pull on the public's heartstrings, we also stashed each wallet with $20 and a Happy 6th Birthday note from Kane’s Grandpa Ken.
On Wednesday May 8, a NewsCenter 16 crew hit the road, placing the bright red billfolds in various neighborhoods, businesses and shopping centers across St. Joseph and Berrien County.
St. Joseph County Courthouse:
Drop one, smack dab on the steps of law and justice at the St. Joseph County courthouse in downtown South Bend. Despite the lunch hour rush, more than a dozen people walked by, including a Jimmy John’s delivery man. None of them noticed the wallet on the ground.
Alone it sat under the May sun for 20 minutes, until a woman with a t-shirt as vivid as the wallet itself, bent over and picked it up.
We repeated the process, this time tossing the wallet on the more well traveled sidewalk. Five minutes went by until a St. Joseph County public defender gave the wallet a slight kick, opened it up and walked it to the courthouse security checkpoint where he turned it in.
South Bend Police Dept. Substation:
One block over, could a wallet near the new South Bend Police Department substation along S. Michigan St. steer walkers toward honesty? A man picked-up the billfold, glanced around and immediately made a phone call.
Belleview Center Strip Mall:
Drops four, five and six centered on different stores at the Belleville Center strip mall along W. Western Ave. in South Bend. Coincidentally enough, each of the three parties that grabbed one of our overtly kid wallets, included women with young children in tow.
Places of Faith:
NewsCenter 16 also tested religious centers, including Granger Community Church during its Wednesday evening bible study, and Christ the King Catholic parish in Clay Township near the end of its adult choir practice. In both cases, members found young Kane's missing birthday gift.
The Princess City:
In Mishawaka, two men found a wallet during an afternoon jaunt at Beutter Riverfront Park, and a middle-age woman stumbled upon a second following her run.
We also surveyed government officials, planting a wallet at the east entrance of Mishawaka city hall. Our cameras were rolling when a man picked-up the wallet and turned it into a city employee inside.
The Shopping Scene:
If nothing else, we wondered, ‘could honesty buckle in the name of shopping?’ That question led us to place wallets at the upscale Heritage Square and Toscana Park promenades in Granger. It didn't take long for shoppers to spot both.
The same story unfolded at the University Park Mall where two women and a man sifted through contents of the wallet, talked things over in the parking lot and made a phone call before driving away.
Main St. - Niles:
We ended our social experiment along Main St. in Niles, curious to see if the common man truly believes, ‘honesty is the best policy.’
The Naughty List:
Three weeks shy of graduating the second grade, eight-year-olds at Stanley Clark School in South Bend are a bright and brutally honest bunch.
"Boy and girls we are going to talk about honesty and what that really means to us,” teacher Maura Visconsi said to her second grade class.
"A lot of people want to be your friend probably because you have a lot of honesty,” Sophia Newlands responded.
"Sometimes you feel tired of thinking the same thing all the time when you lie,” Lily Rozycki added.
“So when is a time you’ve told the truth,” Mrs. Visconsi prodded.
"I was playing with a ball inside when the top part of my TV went down. My mom went running down the stairs and was like 'what happened, what happened!’ So I had to tell her what really happened,” Emily Gowdy fessed-up.
You see these kids understand, the truth really does set you free.
"It feels better, and makes me feel good,” Gabriel Nanni said.
"After you tell the truth, you're not so cramped-up in your body. You’re just free and as light as a feather,” Leo Brummel remarked.
Now imagine if young Leo lost his wallet on the sidewalk - What would you, a grown adult do?
We can tell you three people at the Belleville Center strip mall along W. Western Ave. in South Bend, did the wrong thing.
A mere 30 seconds after tossing one of our overtly kid wallets, a woman walking with her friends and two young children grabbed it and entered a clothing store. Never did she call the number, or turn over the billfold to employees inside.
A similar scene unfolded at a nearby grocery store, where we tossed an identical wallet on a busy Wednesday afternoon. Half a dozen people missed it, but a woman in a neon green shirt, also accompanied by two young kids, instantly spotted the vibrant exterior. Her friend then walked into the frame of our undercover camera, picked-up the wallet, reviewed what was inside and put it in her purse. Not once did she call the number inside or hand it over to customer service.
We also dropped a wallet on the sidewalk outside a discount retailer. A short while later a young boy, carrying two hefty bags for his pregnant mother, zeroed-in on the brightly -colored billfold, quickly sifted through its contents and jammed it into his front pocket. His mother never caught on, and we never received a phone call.
Finders Keepers = Pick-Pocketing:
St. Joseph County prosecuting attorney Mike Dvorak says returning found property isn't simply your moral duty, it's the law.
"I think everyone knows what their obligation is in this type of situation. It’s not finders keepers in the state of Indiana. They know who that belongs to, someone's lost that money and it’s not theirs. They know who it is because the identifiers are in the wallet and they should be returning it,” prosecutor Dvorak said.
Why? Well because the state statute on criminal conversion sees little difference between keeping someone's lost property and pick-pocketing.
"It’s arguable that they've committed the crime of conversion - exerting the unauthorized control over the property of another. You could go to jail for that - Conversion is an A-misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is one year in jail,” prosecutor Dvorak added.
However, prosecution of the act is extremely rare as solid evidence is extremely hard to come by. For example a prosecutor would need a witness or security video of the pick-up taking place, the missing property being located and its rightful owner agreeing to testify in court.
“Most misplaced wallets have a nominal amount of cash; it’s a lot of work for a relatively petty crime. Quite frankly many times people won't go before a jury because we won't have the evidence to prove it in court,” Dvorak added.
On Tuesday NewsCenter 16 reported three people and one workplace failed our Honesty Test. That number has since improved by 25 percent, meaning 12 of 15 or 80 percent of the wallets have been returned.
Minutes after part one aired, a Mishawaka city hall employee called WNDU-TV to report she had the missing wallet we placed outside the building's east entrance.
She told us the wallet had been sitting on her desk for the last two weeks and that she had called the number listed inside. We however never received a phone call or voicemail from her, or anyone else at city hall.
NewsCenter 16 plans to pick-up that wallet, and the twenty bucks inside, on Thursday.
Thursday Just Before Six, we'll highlight the good folks in this community that conquered tantalization and passed our honesty test by simply doing the right thing. We'll also tell you what we plan to do with the $240 dollars returned to NewsCenter 16 in the name of Kane Johnson.
If you’d like to listen to voicemails left for Kane Johnson, just click on the video icon above this story.