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Stuffed wallet lands in four honest hands

A man leaves his stuffed wallet on the roof of his car and drives away. The finders do the "right thing.''

[Times photo: Bill Serne]
After Stephani DeNardi, 15, and her grandmother Kathy Gagne returned Joseph La Torre's wallet in August, La Torre wrote a letter of commendation to the teenager's supervisor at Admiral Farragut Academy, Capt. Robert Fine.

By NEGAR TEKEEI
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 28, 2001


SEMINOLE -- He was dining at his country club one Saturday night, surrounded by friends and enjoying his meal.

When it came time to pay the bill, Joseph La Torre realized that his wallet was missing. Then he remembered -- he had put it on the roof of his car when his arms were too full to unlock the driver's door.

The wallet, he figured, must have fallen off somewhere along the 15-mile drive from his home on 86th Avenue N to the Feather Sound Country Club.

That night, Indian Rocks resident Kathy Gagne was taking her granddaughter, Stephani DeNardi, 15, to see Moulin Rouge at the Seminole Theatres. DeNardi is a student at Admiral Farragut, the naval preparatory academy, where she is a sophomore cadet and officer.

Taking a shortcut to the movies, grandmother and granddaughter turned onto 86th Avenue N when they drove over a brown object in the middle of the road.

"I said, "Stephani, does that look like a wallet?' " Gagne said. They turned around.

DeNardi ran into the road and retrieved the brown leather wallet. They looked for identification.

They found $450 in cash, credit cards, alarm codes, house keys, and business cards with La Torre's contact information.

"It was everything he needed," DeNardi said. "He worked for everything that was in that wallet."

DeNardi and Gagne would call La Torre at his office the following Monday.

La Torre had spent Saturday night searching the streets around his home, not knowing that his wallet had been found three houses away from his.

The chief executive officer of One Source Medical Center in St. Petersburg had canceled his credit cards and had installed new locks and changed security codes at his home and office. The precautions were standard procedures, La Torre said, but he told his wife he knew his wallet would be returned someday.

In his 64 years, La Torre said he had stumbled across many a lost wallet and purse himself and always returned them to their grateful owners. The owner of one wayward wallet told him that his kindness would be returned one day.

"What goes around comes around," La Torre said.

"I'm so happy (DeNardi) did what she did, for her own sake," he said. "You just watch the way kids are today ... and it's just delightful to see this being done."

For her grandmother and herself, DeNardi said, returning the wallet was simply "the right thing to do."

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