April 6, 2012 -- A waitress who was given a $12,000 tip by a patron, only to lose it days later to a police drug investigation, has finally been declared the rightful owner of the cash.
Stacy Knutson, a waitress at the Fryn' Pan restaurant in Moorhead, Minn., said she was working a late-night shift when a patron left a to-go container from another restaurant on the table. Knutson followed the woman to her car, offering to give the box back, but the customer refused.
"No I am good, you keep it," the woman said, according to court papers filed on Knutson's behalf.
Knutson opened the container when she returned to the restaurant and found $12,000 cash in rolled up bills. Worried about where the money came from, Knutson contacted the local police.
"It caused suspicion with her what the history of this money was. It's always a good thing to contact the police department -- we're not making it any worse, we're here to help," said Moorhead police spokesman Lt. Tory Jacobson.
Knutson, in her lawsuit, noted that she did "the right thing" by turning the money over to police despite having a five children she was helping to support on her salary as a waitress.
"We do everything we can to make ends meet, but often times everything is not covered," she said in the lawsuit. "Even though I desperately needed the money as my husband and I have five children, I feel I did the right thing by calling the Moorhead Police."
The Moorhead police opened an investigation to try and find where the money came from, Jacobson said, noting first that the money gave off an overwhelming smell of marijuana.
"Immediately as a human, you're able to smell marijuana on the money, so to confirm, we have a canine do a confirmation sniff. The dog gave a positive indication of narcotics residue, and so now investigators are looking into a narcotics investigation. We have to seize the money and put it into evidence," Jacobson explained.
While the police seized and investigated the money, Knutson and her attorney began wondering when Knutson would ever get the money back. The police told Knutson that if no one had claimed the money within 90 days, it would be hers, so after 90 days, they began asking the police to hand the cash over.
"After 90 days, they were inquiring how do we get money, and as police, we're informing them that it's drug-seized money, so there's a process for us to be able to get that released, and that process is court," Jacobson said.
Knutson and her attorney were advised to file a lawsuit for the money so that a judge could grant the police department permission to turn the $12,000 back over to Jacobson, the rightful owner. Knutson filed the suit earlier this week, and with pressure from the police department to hear the case quickly, a judge ruled Thursday that the money was hers.
By 2 p.m. Thursday, Jacobson was once again in possession of her $12,000 tip, and the Moorhead police investigation of the drug money was considered a closed case.
Knutson and her attorney did not return calls for comment.
"The right thing was done," Jacobson said today.