A seven-year mystery of stolen tithe offerings has been solved this week by a guy fixing a toilet at Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church. Plumber Justin Cauley found 500 cash-filled envelopes while removing insulation behind a toilet at the Houston megachurch.
“There was a loose toilet in the wall, and we removed the tile,” the Cauley told radio DJ George Lindsey. “We went to go remove the toilet, and I moved some insulation away and about 500 envelopes fell out of the wall, and I was like, ‘Oh wow!’”
The man said he immediately contacted the maintenance supervisor, who took the envelopes and reported the find to church staff.
Police now say the bounty of cash and checks are indeed tied to an unsolved burglary reported by Lakewood in 2014. At the time, the Texas church reported some $600,000 worth of tithes and offerings was stolen during weekly church services. The dates on the checks correspond to the date of the burglary.
Had it not been for the plumber, Lindsey said, the church might never have known about the money hidden in its walls. “This sounds like a movie,” he said. “This is crazy.”
The church released a statement last week saying church leaders shared the information with the Houston Police Department and are cooperating with their investigation into the matter.
“Recently, while repair work was being done at Lakewood Church, an undisclosed amount of cash and checks was found,” the church said. “Lakewood immediately notified the Houston Police Department and is assisting them with their investigation. Lakewood has no further comment at this time.”
Cauley received $20,000 as a reward from Crime Stoppers. It is most of the $25,000 reward offered by Crime Stoppers in 2014 after Lakewood reported the burglary. The $20,000 was initially put forth by Lakewood to help Crime Stoppers assist in the search and was later given as a donation to the nonprofit when the statute of limitations on the reward had expired.
Seven years ago, when the money first went missing, Osteen’s church said staffers were “heartbroken” by the crime and urged the congregation of around 40,000 people “to pay close attention to your accounts over the next several days and weeks and report any suspicious activity to your financial institution or credit card company immediately. We are working with the police to fully investigate the incident. The funds were fully insured, and we are working with our insurance company to restore the stolen funds to the church.”
Crime Stoppers says they’re thrilled to make good on the reward.
“When we heard that Justin the plumber made the discovery and immediately reported to the supervisor and law enforcement, it dawned on me that the unique gift from Lakewood Church should go to him,” the nonprofit’s CEO, Rania Mankarious, told The Washington Post. “We were excited to do this for him.”
The church has not said how much money was recovered from the toilet wall.
–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice