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Big tip or tainted cash? Waitress gets to keep $12,000 left by restaurant customer

Updated at 5 p.m. PT: A big fat tip or tainted drug money? Struggling Minnesota waitress Stacy Knutson said it’s the former; Moorhead, Minn., police apparently believed it was the latter.

The wad of cash was left in a to-go box on a table at the Moorhead Fryin’ Pan restaurant where Knutson works. Knutson said she followed the customer out to the parking lot to give back what she thought were leftovers, but the customer said, “No, I am good; you keep it,” according a story Wednesday in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.   

Knutson went back inside the restaurant, peeked inside the box and to her astonishment found $12,000 in cash rolled up in rubber bands.

Like a dutiful citizen, she called police, who seized the money and reportedly told her she would get it back if no one claimed it in 60 days. But when that time period passed, she said police told her she still couldn’t get the money because it was part of a drug investigation. Apparently it didn’t pass the sniff test, because police said the money had a strong odor of marijuana.

Knutson filed a lawsuit in Clay County District Court, claiming the cash is rightfully hers.

On Thursday, her attorney, Craig Richie, said the County Attorney's Office and the Moorhead Police Department had agreed to let her keep all the money.

“We argued that most money that you carry in your pocket has drug residue on it,” Richie told CBS station WCCO. “She could’ve kept the money and nobody would’ve known. But she said, ‘No, I’m going to do the right thing.’ So she called police and now integrity has now prevailed.”

Richie told Reuters that folks around Moorhead knew that Knutson and her husband were having financial problems raising their five children. He told the news service that he believed the money was intended as a gift to the family.

"Stacy is a very religious woman and this is the will of God," he said.

Read the initial story in The Forum here and a follow-up story here.

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