Diogenes, call your office: Honest man returns $2 million

November 25, 2007

Over 100 million boys in the U.S. have repeated the Scout Law, “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.”

Jerry Mika of Draper, Utah, lives it.

Jerry Mika, of Draper Utah, with $2 million check sent to him in error - Jeremy Harmon photo, SL Tribune

Mika returned a check for $2,245,342 that the State of Utah had sent him in error (see the Associated Press story in the Provo Daily Herald — photo, above, by Jeremy Harmon, Salt Lake Tribune).

Mika returned the check — a mistake that occurred when an employee entered a serial number, not an amount — to state finance offices Wednesday.

“Clearly we have an honest, honest citizen. I wish I could do something more than say thanks,” commerce department director Francine Giani said.

Can’t Utah grant him a kingdom — half of Millard County or something? A little duchy in Fillmore, Utah?

Mika, who runs the nonprofit Providence Foundation to help Nepalese sherpas, said he’s had great fun showing off the state’s mistake.

“Everybody looked at it, started giggling and asked why I wasn’t already in Switzerland,” he said.

He admits to being tempted to deposit the money and draw a bit interest before the state asked for its return.

“That money would have gone a long way,” he said.

When a company comptroller complained to me once that the $4 million in refunds to our company would mess up his quarterly bookkeeping because he expected the money in the next quarter, I volunteered to park the money in an account for him. He quickly came to his senses. At low, passbook interest rates, the $4 million would have paid $141/hour, 24 hours a day — more than $3,300 a day. A few weeks of that and you’re talkin’ big money.

Because the check was state-issued, cashing it would probably have been easy, despite the large amount, Giani said.

“It was a valid check,” said Rick Beckstead, the state accounting operation manager whose signature is stamped on the check.

How honest are you, Dear Reader? How much of a temptation would it have been to cash that check? (I’ll wager this man is a former Boy Scout; how much does that account for his actions?)

Perhaps you could reward Mr. Mika’s honesty with a contribution to the foundation he operates, The Providence Foundation.

Teachers: Can you see how to make this into a bell-ringer, warm-up exercise?

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