Leo Guarente, owner of the Junk Depot in Saugus, hauled away a hope chest that was thought to be trash and found an envelope containing $114,000 in savings bonds.
But he never once thought about pocketing the money.
“I sleep well at night,” Guarente said.
The chest belonged to Marie of Medford, who asked that her last name be withheld.
Guarente’s crew helped Marie empty out her mother’s Saugus home last week, and hauled away the locked chest as part of the cleanout. When Guarente met his workers at the next job site, they broke open the chest using a sledgehammer — and found the savings bonds.
“It looked like thousands of dollars,” he said, adding that the unsigned bonds were stamped by the Charlestown Savings Bank in 1972. They had a face value of more than $20,000 at the time, but now are worth about $114,000 with the accrued interest, he said.
“I could’ve used that $114,000 just like anyone else,” Guarente said in a telephone interview. “I haven’t been on vacation in 10 years. But I did not think for one minute that I was going to keep that money.”
When Marie received a call that the Junk Depot crew had found something interesting in the chest, she thought it might have been jewelry or clothes, she said.
“I could not wait to share the news with her,” said Guarente, who was filming a pilot episode that day for “Trash to Cash,” a proposed reality show about his business.
On Saturday afternoon, Marie was unloading groceries from her car when a camera crew showed up at her house, along with Guarente and employees from Junk Depot.
When she heard that she was more than $100,000 richer, Marie gave Guarente a big hug, she said.
“I was in a state of shock,” she said. “I went backwards a little bit. Good thing my brother was [standing] behind me.”
Guarente also returned a gold pocket watch made by the Waltham Watch Co. in 1854 that had belonged to Marie’s late grandfather, Guarente said.
“To hold a piece of history and knowing that you saved it from the dump and that you returned it to the rightful owner, I have no words,” he said.
Marie said she has now finally learned something that her mother had tried to teach her for years.
“I learned my lesson the hard way,” she said. “Before you give something away, look through it thoroughly.”
Although he did not receive a portion of the bond money, Guarente said he has seen an overwhelming response to his honesty, which was first reported in The Daily Item of Lynn.
Guarente has since heard from a Texas man who offered to treat Guarente and his family to a free meal at his restaurant. A man in Ireland wants to make him a corned beef and cabbage dinner, And a Malden man paid Guarente’s cellphone bill for a year, he said.
“It’s been great to hear all of the feedback,” said Guarente, who has received 50 to75 e-mails a day praising his honest actions. “That’s my reward.”
The pilot episode of Guarente’s show will be edited and then pitched to networks including A&E, Lifetime, and National Geographic, he said.
But in the meantime, Guarente said, he’ll just continue spreading good vibes.
“It warmed my heart to know that these people did not know this stuff existed and that I returned it to them. It would’ve went to the dump and it would’ve gotten destroyed,” he said. “Business owners are not just out to make a buck.”