Truth And Consequences:<br>Cherry Tree Moments

How Honest Are You?

At one point or another, everybody has a cherry tree moment - a moment when his or her honesty and integrity are tested like never before. Steve Hartman reports on one such moment, and then tries to create a few more.

For 35-year-old Wanda Johnson, a Savannah hospital worker and single mother of 5, that defining moment came on her lunch hour last September.

Johnson had just left a pawnshop, where she'd sold her TV set to pay a very delinquent electric bill.

"I know it was God that was telling me 'turn around and go back and get a hot dog,'" she says. That sudden craving put her in a most fortunate position, behind an armored truck with a faulty latch.

She saw a bag fly off the truck. On its way to an ATM machine at Suntrust bank, the bag had $120,000 in it.

Johnson could have easily mopped her last floor that day, but decided her clean conscience mattered more. She returned every last dollar that very same day.

"My conscience just wouldn't let me do it," she says.

Even her kids agree. They say they are not at all mad at her, but are very proud.

Johnson's story made Hartman wonder, how many people, if put in that position, would really return the money? To find out, he took a pile of phony cash and stuffed it inside locking bags. On each bag he put clear instructions to call a phone number if it was found.

The experiment took place in Charleston, S.C. Hartman rented an armored truck, and then planted cherry trees all over town.

Fortunately, we're happy to report there are still honest people in the world. One of them is Josephine Singleton. She didn't even open the package.

Singleton, a 72-year-old retired housekeeper, says that her nickname at work was always "honest dependable Josephine."

Anne and Marina also called right away. They said they didn't even think about keeping it: "What's to think about? It's not ours. It's not ours."

Ken Goodman called even sooner. "If it was an employee and they lost their boss' money bag, you know, that could affect them the rest of their lives," he said.

Adam Huneau didn't even bother calling. He literally chased down the truck.

But the biggest surprise was yet to come. Frank Fields, the driver of a church van, was one of those who picked up the bundle. He also called. Needless to say, he was pretty proud of himself - perhaps because for the first time in his life, he'd been caught doing the right thing.

Fields has been in and out of prison for most of his adult life. Convicted time and again, of all things, armed robbery. But that was then. Now, he says, he's content just living on the Lord and $580 a month in disability.

How could he have turned down what seemed to be so much money? "I got more than that inside of me," he says.

Out of 11 bags we dropped, would you believe nine came back to 48 Hours?

Johnson, who found that real bag of money, proved to be not the exception but the rule. For her decency, she got a sizable reward - enough for a downpayment on a new home. As for finding a bank willing to loan her the rest, let's just say that was easy as found money.
  • David Kohn

More From 48 Hours

Comments