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What Happens When A Homeless Couple Finds $10,000 - And Gives It Back

In São Paulo, from under a bridge to under the spotlight for an act of extreme (good 'ol fashioned) honesty.

The homeless in Sao Paulo are not an invisible problem (Paul Keller)
The homeless in Sao Paulo are not an invisible problem (Paul Keller)
Alfonso Benites and Martha Alves

SAO PAULO - In less than 24 hours, a homeless couple living under a bridge in São Paulo saw their lives turn upside down. They found 20,000 Brazilian reals ($10,000) that had been stolen from a sushi restaurant, returned the full amount to the police and were broadcast across several national TV channels as an example of honesty.

But there was more. They met the owners of the money, were threatened by the thieves and managed to get temporary housing and job offers. There was even an invitation for one to go back to Maranhão, in the north of Brazil, to be reunited with familly members he hadn't seen in years.

This whirlwind turnaround in the lives of Rejaniel de Jesus Silva Santos, 36, and Sandra Regina Domingues, who does not know her age, started last Sunday, around 3:30 AM, when they were awoken by the sound of a restaurant's alarm ringing.

They got up and went to check out what was going on. While they were walking, Santos found two bags under a tree next to a bus stop. There were bills, coins and credit card receipts.

"The first thing I thought about was telling the police," said Santos.

Through the credit cards' receipts, the police identified Hokkai Sushi. The restaurant's window was broken and all the cash had been stolen. Police believes the money was left under the tree because there were officers in the vicinity, and the criminals thought they come back later to pick it up.

The next morning, the owners of the restaurant went to the police station, met the two homeless heros and got their money back. "We are very thankful. This is an act of extreme honesty and humility," said Daniel Uemura, 23, one of the restaurant's owners.

The restaurant offered two options for the couple. A qualification course to work within their company (besides restaurants, they own fish shops and fish distribution companies). The other one are two tickets to move back to Maranhão, where Santos' family lives—he hasn't seen his relatives for 16 years.

Love on the streets

The only ugly postscript came courtesy of the original bad guys: the couple was threatened by the thieves who robbed Hokkai Sushi. To make sure they are safe, the restaurant owners has put them up in a local hotel.

Santos came to São Paulo to work with his brother as a construction worker. He got married and had one son, with whom he has lost contact.

After divorcing, Santos lost his job and his home and wound up on the streets -- that's where he met his current partner, Sandra. They have been living together for four months ago.

"I was taught by my mom not to steal and, if I was ever to see anybody stealing, to tell the police," Santos said. "If she sees me on TV in Maranhão, she will see her son is a honest person."

photo - Paul Keller

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