FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – A 17-year-old grocery bagger was ready to wash his hands in the bathroom at the Federal Way supermarket where he works when he saw a brown canvas money bag on the floor.
Moisei Baraniuc was curious. He opened it and saw envelopes filled with money – “a pretty thick stack.”
Thick enough to add up to $10,000.
Stuffed with 50- and hundred-dollar bills, the bag contained the life savings of a Vancouver, Wash., man who accidentally left it in the men’s bathroom at Top Food & Drug on Nov. 13.
Baraniuc, a senior at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, didn’t know the whole story at the time. He just put the bag on the counter and washed his hands while he thought.
“The first thing that went through my mind was keeping it,” he said.
And then the Ukrainian immigrant remembered what his father, Vitalie Baraniuc, always says at dinner at the family’s home in Pacific.
“My dad is always telling us in this life you’ve got to work for yourself,” said Baraniuc, who goes by the nickname Moses. “If you take what doesn’t belong to you, it will catch up to you.”
Instead what caught up with him was the man who lost the money, Fred W. Smith, who paid a grateful visit to the supermarket Wednesday evening.
The night he found the money bag, Baraniuc turned it over to his boss, Suanne Schafer. Schafer took the bag to a secure area with another store worker, who then counted the money.
They were shaken up by the $10,000 amount – 85 hundred-dollar bills and 30 50-dollar bills.
“Besides being really, really shocked, I had an overwhelming sense of pride for Moses for doing the right thing,” said Schafer, the store’s guest services manager.
“You always hope that people would do the right thing,” she said. “He didnt even think twice.”
Federal Way police also are praising Baraniuc.
“That was great,” said Cmdr. Stan McCall. “I think that’s very honest and shows a great deal of integrity.”
Baraniuc works 15 hours a week after school to pay for gas and other expenses. He earns minimum wage. He went to the bathroom to wash his hands around 6:30 p.m. after sweeping the store’s floor.
Baraniuc said he and his family came to the United States five years ago with $300. He teaches 10-year-olds in Sunday school at First Ukrainian Baptist Church in the Federal Way area. That’s another reason he knew he had to return the money. “I can’t be teaching little kids not to do it if I’m doing it,” he said.
After he gave Schafer the money, she called 911 and talked to a disbelieving dispatcher.
Ten minutes later, a Federal Way police officer arrived at the store at 31515 20th Ave. S.
The amazed officer counted the money and put the bills back into the bag.
A couple of hours after Baraniuc found the money bag, a man called the store and said he had left it, Schafer said.
Smith later told police the money was his life savings that he usually keeps at home. Smith told police he was carrying it with him because he was moving. He described the bag, where he left it and the scribbled money totals on the envelopes.
Police kept the cash and checked if the store’s video surveillance confirmed that Smith was in the store.
But the video was shot from too far away to identify him.
Smith then produced a store receipt showing he bought a pumpkin torte and a few other items that day at the store. He also got $5 back in cash.
Police were satisfied. They returned the money to him Nov. 20.
Smith couldn’t be reached to comment for this story. But Baraniuc said that Smith walked into the store looking for him at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Baraniuc said he’s happy with how he handled the situation. “Right now I have everything I need,” he said.