Clerical Error Gives Couple Windfall

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A mysterious deposit of more than $250,000 that a couple thought must have been a gift from God turned out to be nothing more than a clerical error.

The couple, John and Patricia Foote of Delaware, Ohio, spent most of the money for religious purposes before federal authorities told them in 1999 that the deposit was an error.

Federal officials charged the Footes' company, Tile-Crete Systems, with bank fraud, and Patricia Foote, 49, pleaded guilty on behalf of the business earlier this year.

However, the Footes won't have to go to jail.

U.S. District Judge James Graham on Friday ordered Tile-Crete to pay Huntington National Bank $251,197 in restitution. That won't happen because the company has gone out of business.

"You can't get money out of a dead company," said Michael Gunner, an attorney for the couple. He said the Footes are not liable for the restitution.

"I just want to get out of here and back to Florida," John Foote said Friday. The couple now live near Tampa.

"We thought God had somehow given us that money. We called the bank and even went there a couple of times," said Foote, 62. "We asked them to tell us who gave us the money so we could thank whoever it was. The people in the bank told us, 'When they want you to know, they'll tell you.'"

Gunner said the money turned up in Tile-Crete's account with Huntington on Sept. 29, 1997.

Before the transfer, the account had a balance of $402.

The Footes contacted Huntington and the New York bank where the wire transfer originated. They repeatedly were told the windfall was a gift from an anonymous donor.

The Footes speculated the money came from a supporter of the Rev. Leroy Jenkins, based in Delaware, or another ministry that the couple was affiliated with.

They donated $130,000 to Jenkins and other ministries and paid $84,000 for vehicles and trailers they used in helping establish small fundamentalist churches along the East Coast.

The Footes used most of what was left in their missionary work before being told about a year-and-a-half after the deposit was made that the money wasn't theirs.

Gunner said that he's not surprised that federal authorities decided against charging the couple.

"There was no criminal intent here," he said. "After all, they used most of it for religious work. The government would have had a tough time convincing a jury that these people are criminals."

Federal law allows people to keep money received anonymously through the mail, Gunner said.

"I think that same issue applies in this case," he said.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)