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Mahwah police search for man who took $150K that ATM worker dropped

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MAHWAH, N.J. — If you've ever dropped a five dollar bill on the sidewalk, but realized minutes later that it was long gone, or have even experienced that situation with a lost twenty dollar bill, you've gotten just a small taste of what an ATM maintenance worker is going through, after he lost nearly $150,000 cash, and somebody stole it.

Despite it appearing on the surface to be a possible inside job, investigators are convinced it was a massive blunder that allowed thieves to make off with a whopping amount of money.  Still, according to police, if the men who took the cash had done the right thing with it, they might have ended up with a significant pay day anyway, as another recent case illustrates.

The problematic cash drop off was captured on surveillance video at the building where it happened, 31 Industrial Drive.  That's where an employee of the company left a black satchel on the edge of a lawn, near the curb, where he and his work partner had parked their ATM servicing vehicle.  The worker told police he'd thought he'd taken his tool kit out of the car, and accidentally left it on the lawn. Instead, it was the bag of money, filled with approximately $141,500.

The worker, whose assignment it was to ride in the back of the ATM service vehicle, a black Toyota Prius, climbed in, and he and his partner drove off.

"Inadvertently, I know that sounds odd," said Mahwah police chief James Batelli,  "he put a satchel of $150,000 on the curb."

As surveillance video from the business where the ATM was being serviced showed, minutes later, around 11:40 A.M. Monday, a white GMC Savana van pulled up, it's passenger jumped out, examined the bag, and loaded it into the van.

"A lot of people have asked, 'How can an employee leave $150,000 on the curb and simply forget it?'" said Chief Batelli.  "To us, that's a lot of money," he said,  "but for them, delivering ATM machines all day, money in and out, it's not a large amount of money."

What ended up being a key help to investigators was evidence gathered from the high-end, exotic  car maintenance business across the street from where the satchel of money had been left.  The shop has more than a dozen surveillance cameras outside.

Many of them recorded the same white GMC van at their business minutes before the six-figure heist.  The men in the van were captured in the video taking used tires from the business's dumpsters.  Then, as they drove away, the van happened to pass by the bag of cash.

"When we watched the video," said Chief Batelli, "we saw them go past [the money satchel] once, make a U-turn, turn back, make another U-turn and then pull up along side of it.  They had no idea what they were picking up," the chief continued.  "I think they were surprised to get $150,000."

Some residents were not so convinced.  Bill Kochi reacted to detectives' conclusion that it was one big accident.  "Of course it's farfetched," said Kochi.  "These guys, that's what they do.  That's how they make their money, right?"

But police insist that it was a big blunder.  So big, in fact, that the ATM worker who'd left the cash container behind had to be taken to the hospital for treatment for hyperventilation. The worker had returned to the scene after reporting his $150,000 loss to police.  He'd hoped to retrieve the bag he'd mistakenly left behind, but no such luck.

Mahwah's police chief told PIX11 News that his detectives had developed strong leads, in part because of the clear and abundant surveillance video they'd amassed.

The chief also pointed out that his department has another, similar case. It involves far less money though, $1,500. But the person who found that money turned it in, and now, a countdown clock is nearing zero.

"They'd be entitled to it after a certain period of time" if the rightful owner does not claim the money, said the chief.  It gets turned over to the person who brought it in, after a waiting period for it to be claimed.  "[It lasts] six months in the state of New Jersey," Chief Batelli said.  All of the money will get turned over to the Good Samaritan in September, unless it's claimed by its rightful owner.

Batelli added that because his detectives know the vehicles and homes where the suspects spend time, he expects arrests in the case by Wednesday night at the latest.