May 31, 2012 -- Virginia Hopkins is a great waitress and she's used to getting great tips. But the one she got from her Uncle Sam on Tuesday nearly knocked her to the floor.
Virginia is owed a tax refund of $754, for which she has been waiting eagerly. But the check she opened was for more. A lot more: $434,712.
"I think I would have to work most of my life to earn that much money," she says. "Even with undeclared tips," she adds with a laugh.
Virginia's tips aside, she is clearly one of the most honest waitresses in the country. She didn't consider keeping the money even for a moment.
The problem is she didn't quite know how to go about returning half a million dollars to the U.S. government.
Virginia was on her way to work anyway, so she took the check with her. Virginia has been waiting tables at Johnny's Downtown Restaurant, a Cleveland institution, since it opened 19 years ago.
"I tell people I used to be a tall, slim brunette," she jokes. "Now I stand four-feet-eight with white hair. This is what happens after 20 years of waitressing."
She may not be tall or brunette any more, but she hasn't lost any of the personality that makes her one of the restaurant's favorite employees.
"She was laughing" when she brought the check in, says fellow employee Mary Lou Adams, who's been a bookkeeper at Johnny's for as long as Virginia has been a waitress. "She said, you'll never believe what I got in the mail."
Both workers and diners at the restaurant joined in the discussion of what Virginia should do.
"You have a million new best friends," Virginia says. "My grandchildren especially. They're teenagers." Her grandchildren thought half a million dollars just might get them into the sold-out Cleveland concert of the boy band One Direction.
It was not to be.
It was decided the best plan was for Virginia to hand carry the check into Cleveland's IRS office the next day.
"Would you believe I had to give them a photo id to prove it was me before I could give it back?" she says. "Otherwise they wouldn't even talk to me."
Once she'd convinced them she wasn't trying to scam the U.S. government by bringing in a large check, she says the IRS people were very polite. They took the check and promised to thoroughly investigate the error.
But Virginia will never learn why she was rich for a day. For privacy reasons, she says, the IRS will not reveal the results of their investigation.
Today is Virginia's day off. She says she's spending it "readjusting."
"It's not easy being poor after you've been rich," she jokes. But she did get something out of the experience.
A local television reporter happened to be eating at the restaurant when she came in with her riches, so now Virginia is a Cleveland celebrity.
Is she getting better tips?
"Last night was a good night," she admits. "Please tell me fortune goes with fame."
Virginia is still waiting for her $754 refund.