HOUSTON (AP). For more than seven years, no one knew what happened to the checks and cash for $ 600,000 that were stolen from a safe in Pastor Joel Austin’s Houston megachurch, which houses one of the largest congregations in the country.
Now, there is a possible plot twist in this case: the money may never have left the church, and the plumber could have helped solve the mystery.
Houston police are investigating whether cash and checks found by a plumber during renovations at Lakewood Church are related to money that was stolen in 2014.
The reopened investigation comes after a plumber on Thursday called “Morning Bullpen with George, Moe and Eric at 100.3 The Bull” during a Houston radio segment asking people to talk about the most unusual valuables they’ve ever had. … found.
Some callers talked about finding a $ 100 or ring before the plumber went on the air with his account of what he found while repairing a leaking church toilet about four weeks ago.
“I went to clean the toilet, pushed back the insulation, and about 500 envelopes fell out of the wall. I thought, “Wow, wow.” I got my flashlight, it lit up there, ”the plumber said in an audio recording provided by the Houston radio station.
A plumber, who only identified himself as Justin, told the radio program that he believed the money envelopes were related to the theft in 2014, and immediately reported this to the church’s maintenance chief, who then contacted the police. KPRK-TV for the first time broadcast the history of the plumber to the radio station.
George Lindsey, co-host of the show, called the plumber story “the most real moment we’ve ever had on our show.”
“I really felt like it was a movie. This is the plot of the film. This is not something that happens in everyday life. We were just blown away by this, ”said Lindsey. “You are thinking. What is it? What happened? Why didn’t anyone come back and receive this money? What is he doing in the wall? Why hasn’t anyone discovered this before? “
Lakewood Church did not corroborate the plumber’s account of what he found.
Lakewood Church said in a statement that an undisclosed amount of cash and checks was recently found during renovations, but did not provide further details on the discovery or whether it could be related to the missing $ 600,000.
“Lakewood has immediately notified the Houston Police Department and is helping them with the investigation. Lakewood has no further comments at this time, ”the church said in a short statement.
In a statement Friday, Houston police said officers were summoned to the church on November 10 after cash, checks and money orders were found inside the wall.
While the investigation continues, evidence from the checks suggests that the money found in the wall is linked to a theft in 2014, police said.
The amount of money found in the wall was not disclosed and an inventory was taken and “left in the care of the Lakewood Church as it was property found on its property,” police said.
In March 2014, the church reported the theft of $ 200,000 in cash and $ 400,000 in checks. The church said the money and checks taken, as well as some envelopes with written credit card information, were limited to funds given out during Saturday and Sunday services a few days before.
The church said that the stolen funds are fully insured.
Shortly after the burglary, a reward of $ 25,000 was offered for information on disclosure of the theft. No arrests were made in the case.
Lindsay said the plumber should get some kind of reward for what he found.
According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Studies, about 43,500 people attend services weekly in Lakewood, making it the largest megachurch in the United States. Austin’s sermons are televised in approximately 100 countries.