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Teen turns into Robin Hood with found money

A 16-year-old student got a lesson last week on the fine line between doing a good thing and doing the right thing.

The student, who attends District 917's Alliance Education Center in Rosemount, was biking to school March 10 when something in the ditch caught his attention. He explored and found a plastic grocery bag with what Dakota County chief deputy Dave Bellows described as "a sizable amount of cash."

In this case, "sizable" means somewhere in the neighborhood of $17,000.

The student continued to school, where he handed out about $11,000 to friends and school employees. He put $1,200 in the bag of a school bus aide he believed could use the cash.

Bellows said the boy should have turned the money over to police right away. But the fact he handed out his windfall to people he believed needed it impressed some of the people who followed the trail of cash.

That includes deputy Dawanna Witt, a liaison officer at the ISD 917 school and the person who tracked the money to the student.

"I asked my daughter, 'What would you do if you had a lot of money right now?' She said, 'Go shopping,'" Witt said. "He didn't. He went to school."

According to Bellows the student started handing the money out to classmates, teachers and others he came into contact with. He also reportedly used some of the money to buy things from other students in his school.

Witt learned of the handouts when she got a call from a manager from Marshall Lines, the bus company that serves the school. He said one of his bus aides had found money in her bag. The more Witt looked, the more cash she found.

Another student on the bus had some. So did other students at the school, and at other schools in the area including Rosemount High School.

Witt's investigation ultimately led her to the student who'd been handing out the cash. At first, he told her the money was from his allowance. Witt didn't believe him, and told him he could come back when he felt like telling the truth. He walked out of her office, but was back within 30 seconds. That's when he told her he'd found the money in a ditch.

As stories go, Bellows said, it was about as convincing as, "the dog ate my homework."

"I thought, well, he lied to me once, maybe he's lying again," Witt said.

But the story was true. Witt eventually connected with the Dakota County Drug Task Force, which was in the process of investigating a case against 36-year-old Farmington resident John Taylor Jordan. Task force officers had found 200 marijuana plants and grow lights in Jordan's 190th Street home March 9 after Farmington police stopped him on 195th Street, in the area where the student found the money.

"Things just fell into place," Witt said.

The student told police where he found the money and when Farmington police checked the ditch they found four gallon-sized bags of marijuana. A fifth bag was turned in later.

The student has been described as a modern-day Robin Hood and his cash-distribution spree has been called a new stimulus plan. But like the real stimulus plan Bellows said the money will ultimately end up in the hands of the government.

"The kid had some good motives in terms of, he was trying to share it in some cases with people he thought needed money," Bellows said. "While his motives may have been good, the one thing is, when you find things like that -- you find large sums of money or you find property -- let the officers know about it because there's always a story behind it."

In this case, the story is a pretty good one.

Witt was not surprised the student, who she knows outside of the school as well, had been handing the money out.

"If he had $100 that was part of his allowance and he went to lunch with three people he would spend every bit of that $100 on his group," Witt said. "That's him. I've seen him do this before."

It will ultimately be up to the Dakota County Attorney's office to decide whether to charge the student, but both Bellows and Witt said charges are not likely.