A plumber doing maintenance work at pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church stumbled across checks and cash hidden in a wall — a discovery that may yield clues to an unsolved burglary reported by the congregation seven years ago.
The caller — who has only been identified as “Justin” — said he was on a job at the megachurch Nov. 10 when he made the stunning find.
“There was a loose toilet in the wall, and we removed the tile,” he told George Lindsey on 100.3 the Bull’s morning show. “We went to go remove the toilet, and I moved some insulation away and about 500 envelopes fell out of the wall.”
The plumber couldn’t believe what he saw spill out of the wall: The envelopes were filled with thousands of dollars in cash and checks.
“I was like, ‘Oh wow,’” he said.
Back in 2014, Lakewood Church, led by Osteen and wife Victoria, reported to police the loss of more than $600,000 in a burglary. The maintenance man’s discovery was confirmed by Lakewood Church to Houston’s KPRC-TV, the first to report the story. A Lakewood spokesperson also confirmed the news to The Washington Post on Friday.
“Recently, while repair work was being done at Lakewood Church, an undisclosed amount of cash and checks were found,” the spokesperson said. “Lakewood immediately notified the Houston Police Department and is assisting them with their investigation.”
The church did not say how much money was recovered from the toilet wall last month.
Later Friday, the Houston Police Department announced that the cash, checks and money orders found last month in the toilet wall appear to be connected to the 2014 burglary.
“Evidence from the recovered checks suggests this November case is connected to a March 9, 2014 theft report of undisclosed amounts of money at the church,” police said.
The investigation is ongoing, police said, and no further details were made public.
Lakewood — a 606,000-square-foot church that attracts tens of thousands of worshipers to Osteen’s weekly services — was rocked in March 2014 when the pastor announced that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been stolen from the church’s safe. The burglary was discovered on a Monday morning after weekend services. A police spokesman said at the time that $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks were reported stolen after a Lakewood employee noticed it was missing, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The funds were fully insured, according to a Lakewood statement at the time, and the church was working with its insurance company “to restore the stolen funds to the church.”
“We were heartbroken to learn today that funds were stolen from the church over the weekend,” the church said at the time, according to HuffPost.
Osteen appeared to tweet about Lakewood’s misfortunes after the burglary.
“Trust is saying, ‘God I’m not going to let this upset me. I can’t make it work out my way, but I know you’re in control,’” he wrote.
Trust is saying, “God I’m not going to let this upset me. I can’t make it work out my way, but I know you’re in control.”— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) March 11, 2014
Although Crime Stoppers offered a $25,000 reward for any information on the missing money, it was not recovered.
But the case took an unlikely turn Thursday on “The Morning Bull Show.”
The plumber told Lindsey that after making the discovery, he notified a maintenance person at the church and “turned it all in.”
“He has to be one of the most honest people in the world,” Lindsey told The Post. “We’re talking about a bathroom with no security cameras. He could have pocketed some money, but this guy reported it immediately.”
The news had some in Houston and on social media calling for Justin to receive some sort of reward for finding the envelopes, especially if the money is confirmed to be what was taken in the 2014 burglary. Crime Stoppers of Houston told local media that the statute of limitations on the $25,000 reward had expired, meaning the plumber would not get a reward if the envelopes are indeed connected to the burglary.
Although questions remain — including why and how the money might have ended up behind a wall — Lindsey said that at the very least, the plumber has sparked new interest in what had seemingly become a cold case.
“I don’t believe this was a coincidence,” Lindsey said. “He was meant to find this.”