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Waterford man's lost $4,200 returned by fellow veteran

The story has all the makings of a Hallmark movie: A former combat medic loses $4,200 in cash on Veterans Day. A former combat engineer finds the envelope and returns the money two days later.

But this is no movie.

Waterford resident Benjamin Donovan left Angie's Pizza in Mystic Monday significantly lighter on cash than when he went in. He had been carrying a $4,200 deposit for a new painting contract he'd recently received. He said he'd considered leaving the money in his car when he got to Angie's, but instead put it in his back pocket and forgot about it.

He'd only had the money for an hour when he lost it, he added.

Donovan is the owner of All Star Painting in Waterford. He was an Army combat medic from 2002 to 2008 and was deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005.

He took to Facebook to tell what happened, and his original post was up to 1,800 shares as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. It also had received widespread media coverage.

"Happy Veterans Day to me," the post reads. "Lost $4,200 in cash in a bank envelope at Angie's Pizza in Mystic from a job I just got a deposit on. Had to have fallen out of my pocket when I went to the bathroom as soon as I got there. Someone took it so thank you to whoever that is and have fun. Hope you sleep well tonight."

By Wednesday, though, Donovan's luck had turned. On a post with more than 1,800 likes as of Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., he thanked Bill Palifka of Marlborough for returning the cash.

"There's good people out there in the world!" the post read. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart Bill Palifka! He found the money at Angie's Pizza in the bathroom ... The ultimate kicker, he's a vet, too! Thank you so much to everyone that cared enough to reach out, share the story, share kind words or donate. Any donations will be returned. What a beautiful Day!"

The Gofundme account titled "Let's help Benjamin get his money back!" had garnered over $1,300 before being deactivated.

Palifka is a former Connecticut National Guard member. He was activated in 2003 and also was sent to Iraq. He said while he was in the bathroom at Angie's on Monday, he looked down and saw a bank envelope on the floor. When he picked it up, he thought, "Oh my God, there's a lot of money in there."

First, he looked for some sort of owner identifier in the envelope. There wasn't one. Then, he came out of the bathroom and looked around for someone in crisis, someone who seemed anxious he could go up to and ask what was wrong. But there was no one.

He decided against giving it to the restaurant and planned on handing it over to police.

He went to New York and Pennsylvania on Tuesday for a business trip. While he was on his way home, his wife texted him saying she had seen whom the money belonged to on news reports. An article Palifka read included Donovan's email, so Palifka contacted him early Wednesday morning.

Donovan called Palifka within minutes of reading the email.

"He was like, 'Is this for real?'" Palifka said. "I'm just glad it got to the right person and had a happy ending."

"I sincerely wasn't expecting it," Donovan said of the email.

Palifka said that amount of money could make or break a business. He wondered immediately if the person who lost the money had children. Donovan has three sons and one stepdaughter.

"If I lost that much money, I hope the person who found it would do the right thing," Palifka said. "I don't feel like I did anything special. If people were a little kinder, the world would be a better place."

Donovan said he planned on depositing the money before banks closed on Wednesday.

"Serendipity" is the word Palifka used to describe this week's events. At the least, it's a Veterans Day story Donovan said he won't soon forget.


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