All Patrick Combs wanted for returning the $95,000 junk mail check he had cashed was a free lunch with his bank president.
Instead, his bank accused him of fraud, threatened to put police on his doorstep and tried to take him to court.Combs' legal travails were expected to end Tuesday, when he turns over the key to the safe deposit box where he stashed the money and signs a five-page settlement.
Lunch with First Interstate Bancorp President William E.B. Siart is not included in the deal.
That doesn't matter to Combs, who described the five-month odyssey as a test of his ethics.
"It's hard to give back $95,000 when six lawyers have told you it's legally yours," Combs said. "Now, I'm giving it back, and it's a wonderful feeling."
In May, Combs deposited a fake promotional check for $95,000 in his First Interstate Bank account through his automated teller machine. To his surprise, the check from the Association of Certified Liquidators cleared a few days later.
Combs called his brother Mike, who advised him to cash the check and put the money in a safe deposit box.
Patrick Combs then learned three lessons in modern banking: The big safe deposit boxes are all taken; you cannot get $500 bills anymore; $95,000 in $100 bills will not fit in a small box.
So the 29-year-old San Francisco author got a cashier's check instead.
When First Interstate realized its mistake a month later and asked for the money back, Combs said he was more than happy to return it. He'd never intended to keep it, after all.
But when a security officer accused him of fraud, Combs figured he needed something in writing exonerating him of any charges the bank might later file. He refused to return the check until he had something in writing.
That took months.
After he and bank attorney Bernard Meyers worked out the agreement, Combs said, Meyers told him, "We assume you'll be closing your account."
"I said I didn't want to do that because I thought we were really starting to get along," Combs recalled. "He gave me this look and said: `First Interstate isn't asking you to close your account, but it would please First Interstate if you did.' "
Combs now banks with American Savings.