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Plumber rewarded for returning cash found stashed in Joel Osteen’s church

Replacing a toilet in the TV preacher’s Houston megachurch, the plumber found cash-stuffed envelopes squirreled away in a wall.

HOUSTON (CN) — A Houston plumber who found a trove of stolen cash and checks in the wall of a megachurch, and returned it all to the church, received a $20,000 reward Tuesday.

A man who identified himself only as Justin the plumber called into a Houston radio show Thursday after the hosts asked listeners to share tales about valuable things they had randomly found.

He said he was sent Nov. 10 to replace a toilet at televangelist Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston.

“There was a loose toilet in the wall, and we removed the tile. We went to go remove the toilet, and I moved some insulation away and about 500 envelopes fell out of the wall,” he recounted on 100.3 FM’s “The Morning Bullpen with George Mo and Erik.”

He said he immediately notified his supervisor and gave the church the envelopes.

Houston police announced Friday that dates on the recovered checks indicated the cache was connected to a theft of $600,000 in checks, money orders and cash from the church’s safe in March 2014.

“The investigation is ongoing. No other information is being released at this time,” HPD said on Twitter.

Justin’s find rekindled the case that had gone cold after Crime Stoppers Houston offered a $5,000 reward and Lakewood Church pitched in $20,000, leading the church, which filed an insurance claim for the stolen funds shortly after the heist, to switch the $20,000 to a donation to the crime-fighting organization.

That one-time $25,000 reward was on Justin’s mind when he called into the radio show Thursday, as he half-jokingly said, “I need some compensation," and griped no one from the church had thanked him, though church officials said a few days later they had thanked him several times the day of his discovery.

He called the radio hosts back Monday for a second interview. “I’m not here to blast anybody. Joel, I don’t know him personally,” he said of Osteen.

“It’s just something that happened at the facility, at that time,” he added. “There’s a lot of people speculating, ‘Oh he’s [Osteen’s] a crook or whatever. But you know I don’t think that. But I don’t know. I don’t know the guy. All I know is I was just there to do a job and something like this unraveled and it’s gone from there.”

Lakewood, a nondenominational Christian church founded in 1959 by Joel’s father John Osteen, receives millions each year in contributions.

It averaged 40,000 weekly attendees before the pandemic at its 16,800-seat building off U.S. Highway 59, which in its previous incarnation was a sports arena called the Compaq Center where the Houston Rockets played their home games.

After the story broke, Crime Stoppers of Houston CEO Rania Mankarious said it was still offering the $5,000 reward, but, per its policy, it would only give the money to a tipster who provided info leading to identification, charging or arrest of a suspect.

But on Tuesday Mankarious announced she had received approval from Crime Stoppers’ executive committee to gift $20,000 to Justin the plumber.

“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 amount of money to this Good Samaritan and wishing he and his family a wonderful holiday season,” Makarious said in a statement.

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