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A plumber who accidentally stumbled upon a wad of stolen cash and checks — possibly totaling several hundred thousand dollars — behind a toilet of a Texas megachurch was awarded $20,000 for turning in the find.
On Nov. 10, plumber Justin Cauley discovered roughly 500 envelopes containing a “large amount of money” while renovating a toilet wall of a bathroom of Houston’s Lakewood Church.
The undisclosed amount of cash, checks, and money orders is tied to an unsolved 2014 theft of $600,000 in church donations, according to Houston Police, who are investigating the incident.
For seven years, the stolen money flummoxed church officials, parishioners, and law enforcement.
“I removed the toilet and all that good stuff and that’s when it happened,” Cauley told Oxygen.com on Friday. “I removed the insulation out of the wall and the envelopes were sitting right there, you know? They were stacked on top of some of the insulation so when I moved it over, they all fell out.”
Police said evidence from the checks found in the church’s bathroom suggests they’re connected to the initial theft at Lakewood Church reported on March 9, 2014.
“Church members stated that during a renovation project, a large amount of money — including cash, checks, and money orders — were found inside a wall,” Houston Police said in a statement.
Following the surreal discovery, Cauley contacted the church’s maintenance supervisor, who ultimately tipped off Houston Police.
“It was very, very shocking,” he recalled. “And that’s why I did what I did. I acted pretty fast on it. I didn’t waste no time. I called them and turned that all in.”
This week, Houston Crime Stoppers announced they’d awarded Cauley $20,000 for swiftly reporting the missing cash.
“It was like a shooting star went straight over my head,” Cauley said, who recalled he was speaking with his grandmother on the phone when he learned of the reward. “We were praying. I’m really glad it all came through.”
In 2014, Lakewood Church gave Houston Crime Stoppers $20,000, which was offered up as a reward in an effort to help solve the case. Two years later, the church opted to donate that money to Crime Stoppers to pay for its operations.
“Today, we are gifting that same about of money to this Good Samaritan and wishing he and his family a wonderful holiday season,” Houston Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious said in a statement.
Cauley, who has a 1-year-old boy, described the reward as a blessing for his young family and small business, which have struggled through the coronavirus pandemic.
“It came in dire need,” he said. “It was just a huge blessing, especially at the end of the year … work starts really slowing down."
Winter Storm Uri, which rocked Texas in February, knocked out power, heat, and water for millions of homeowners, killing upwards of 200 people. The deadly snowstorm also cost the 28-year-old plumber thousands of dollars in property damage, the repairs of which, Cauley explained, are ongoing. The reward, he said, will help restore their battered home.
“[The] A/C unit is going out, a bunch of house repairs, [and] of course the baby’s getting bigger,” Cauley said.
Cauley says he also plans to donate some of the Crime Stopper reward proceeds to pet rescue organizations in the Houston-area, such as the SPCA.
“I’m going to help [by] spreading the wealth,” he said.
Lakewood Church is run by American televangelist, Joel Osteen, whose viral sermons reach millions of weekly viewers. The sprawling megachurch, one of the largest in America, caters to tens of thousands of local worshippers.
The church, which came under fire for not immediately getting in contact with Cauley after the funds were recovered, has invited the 28-year-old to its Sunday services this weekend. In a statement sent to Oxygen.com on Thursday, Lakewood Church said it was “very appreciative of Mr. Cauley.”
In the days and weeks since, Cauley has been bombarded by phone calls from journalists and reporters from around the country. Locally, he’s been dubbed the “most famous plumber In the world.”
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Cauley said. “I’m not really trying to get my name out there or be famous anything, but that’s kind of the way it happened.”
No further information was released by Houston Police regarding the open investigation.
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