Stolen wallet returned to veteran, $700 left inside

- A Good Samaritan comes to the rescue after a suspect was caught on camera taking the wallet of a retired veteran on a motorized cart in Publix.

Video surfaced Monday of a senior citizen dropping his wallet in the aisle of a Winter Haven Publix store. He was riding on a motorized cart.

A few seconds later, you see a man pick up the wallet and walk away with it. And police say charges to the victim's credit cards started racking up within minutes. The suspect also drained hundreds of dollars from the victim's debit card.

Tuesday, the wallet's owner, 76-year-old Jim Lear got his wallet back, thanks to a fortunate series of events and another man's honest heart.

"It actually happens more often than it should," Lear said.

Lear is an Army veteran and former Winter Haven Commissioner. Saturday, he said he stopped by Publix to buy some lotto tickets. After paying for them, he began to look around the store at other items.

"I start driving around the store, picking things that I don't need," Lear joked, "then, I went up to check out and I was feeling for my wallet and I didn't have it."

Lear said he was wearing work pants with shallow pockets and didn't realize he'd dropped the wallet. By then, it was long gone. Or, so he thought.

"I happened to be in a garbage can looking and I see the wallet," said Rick Ochoa.

Monday night, Ochoa was doing his regular ministry walk. He said he checks garbage cans for recyclable aluminum cans he can trade for cash, which he gives to his church.

Ochoa said he found the wallet in a garbage can about a tenth-of-a-mile away from the Publix.

"I thought, 'wait a minute, all I see are $100 bills in there,'" Ochoa said. "And, I said, 'Lord, give me strength like anyone else would ask you right now.' So, I just put it in a safe place in my cart as I continued my walk."

As easy as it could have been to claim the money, Ochoa called police. By Tuesday, Jim Lear's faith in humanity was restored. The two men met and the wallet was returned to its owner.

"I told him I love him," Lear laughed, "I said I was going to kiss him but, haha, I don't think."

"A big old hug is good," Ochoa chimed in.

Though the thief charged $300 to Lear's debit card, he didn't touch the cash tucked inside. Neither did Ochoa. And, for his honesty, Lear gave him $100. That money won't stay with him for long.

Ochoa said he plans to donate it to a charity for homeless veterans.

"I'm a Christian. I love my Lord. He tells me what to do," Ochoa said.

As for the suspect, Lear has a few words for him.

"Hey stupid," Lear laughed, "You threw away a wallet that had $700 in it. And now, we have your picture on the front page. I'll see ya!"

Luckily, the bank is reimbursing the $300 charged on Lear's debit card. All that's left is for police to track down the suspect.

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