‘Pay it forward’: Lakewood responds to plumber receiving $20K gift from Crime Stoppers

20K check after finding money

HOUSTON – Crime Stoppers of Houston has decided to reward a plumber who discovered stacks of cash and checks inside a wall at Lakewood Church with a one-time gift of $20,000.

In 2014, Lakewood Church reported a theft of approximately $600,000 in cash and checks. The case was being handled by the Houston Police Department.

As normal procedure, Crime Stoppers automatically offered a cash reward of up to $5,000. Lakewood Church added a supplement reward of $20,000, yielding a potential reward of up to $25,000 for the person or persons with information leading to the identification, charging and/or arrest in the case. By 2016, with no real leads, Lakewood decided to shift that supplemental reward into a charitable donation to Crime Stoppers of Houston in support of its ongoing public safety work in Houston and beyond.

On November 10, 2021, HPD reported that during a renovation project, the plumber had discovered a large amount of money hidden in a wall. Evidence from the recovered checks suggests that the discovery was connected to the March 2014 theft. By the time the discovery was made, however, the statute of limitation for the crime and reward had expired.

Lakewood did not contact the man at all, which the good Samaritan called disappointing.

“I wanted to hear [Joel Osteen] say, ‘You know, Justin, what you did was right. We understand what you did and what you could have done,’” the plumber, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. “I feel like, at this point, I should have heard something. I’m just a little upset.”

Crime Stoppers of Houston heard his cries and decided to reward his good deed.

On Friday, as more pieces of the case came together, Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious began talking to Deputy Director Nichole Christoph who also discussed the issues with its law enforcement partners. Mankarious also began asking the Crime Stoppers Executive Committee if the organization could gift $20,000, the amount originally given to Crime Stoppers by Lakewood, to the plumber who made the discovery and turned in the money. Mankarious received approval Tuesday to move forward with the gift.

“Crime Stoppers of Houston is a public safety organization that thrives on the public safety of all communities. We believe that it takes all of us, working together, to keep Houston safe and thriving. In 2014, Lakewood Church gave us $20,000 to work on this case. In 2016, they chose to gift us those funds for operations. Today, we are gifting that same about of money to this Good Samaritan and wishing he and his family a wonderful holiday season,” says Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious.

Lakewood responded to the news in a statement saying, “In 2016, Lakewood Church made a $20,000 charitable donation to Crime Stoppers of Houston to help solve this case and support them for all they do for the community. We are appreciative of the plumber and we hope he pays the gift forward.”

This case left many community members asking how the Crime Stoppers tip line and reward program work. For 41 years, Crime Stoppers of Houston has offered the Greater Houston Area an anonymous Tip Line, a valuable reporting platform that has proven to be extremely helpful in both solving serious crimes and in locating dangerous defendants and fugitives. A standard cash reward of up to $5,000 is offered on any unsolved felony case for information that is reported anonymously to Crime Stoppers. The tips reported must lead to the identification, charging and/or arrest of a felony suspect(s) in order to receive a cash payout.

As always, if you have a tip about an unsolved crime, call 713-222-TIPS or report online at www.crime-stoppers.org. You can also report a tip using their mobile app. Download “Crime Stoppers Houston” from the app store. It’s free and available in more than 20 languages.

For the latest crime trends or to visit Crime Stoppers’ crime database, go to www.crime-stoppers.org or follow Crime Stoppers of Houston on social media.

About the Author:

Mother of two. Award-winning lover of digital storytelling, sparked by my fascination of being a fashionable gossip like my favorite "Willona Woods" character from "Good Times." On the serious side, president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists and dedicated community servant. Happy to share the news with you each and every day!