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Judge decides owner of cash found at St. Louis-area Goodwill

CLAYTON, Mo. – A judge has awarded most of the more than $14,000 found in a box of Christmas decorations at a St. Louis-area Goodwill store to a woman who said it was inadvertently given to the charity by mistake after an estate sale at her parents’ home and was not a donation.

The St. Louis County judge on Monday awarded all but $979 of the $14,505 discovered in May to Renee Stout, a Webster Groves woman who was one of at least 15 people who tried to claim the cash, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The rest of the money will go toward paying Goodwill’s legal fees.

Stout, who didn’t attend the hearing, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment left Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Stout had hired a company to hold an estate sale at the home of her parents of Columbia, Ill., just southeast of St. Louis. The money came from that home, where Stout’s mother was known to stash cash.

A worker at a Goodwill store found the money May 9 among discarded Christmas decorations donated by a man, then turned over the money to her bosses.

The Stout-hired estate sales company, then called Great Estate, told the court Monday it wanted no part of the money, figuring it should go to Stout.

“She told me to be aware that her mother hid money throughout the house, and to let her know if any should turn up,” Sean Kelley, who runs Great Estate, told the judge.

He said he looked but found no cash and later recruited Gloria Muhammad-Harden’s In Stages Inc. to clean out the unsold items, with Muhammad-Harden to pay $100 and in return take all the leftovers.

Muhammad-Harden argued in court papers that her deal with Kelley was that all the leftovers from the estate sale were hers, although Kelley denied that. Muhammad-Harden’s claim to the cash fizzled when she failed to honor the judge’s request that she hire an attorney to represent her.

Saying his company finds money “all the time,” Kelley said he was excited to hear Stout got the cash back.

“It hurts your reputation if you keep it,” he said. “You have to do the right thing.”

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