MODESTO -- Three Modesto city sewer workers find themselves enmeshed in an unusual kind of dirty business.
Modesto police are investigating them after the trio sold roughly $2,500 worth of jewelry at a pawn shop. Police Chief Galen Carroll said the three found the jewelry while cleaning sewer lines.
Carroll said it's not clear that the workers committed a crime, but as city employees he said he believes they had a duty to find the owners or turn the valuables over to the city. He acknowledged that it would be very difficult to locate the owners.
The investigation, which started about two months ago, is nearly finished and will be turned over to the district attorney's office for review. Carroll said police will not make a recommendation on whether charges should be filed.
He said officers became aware of the city workers' actions during a routine audit of a Modesto pawn shop, which he declined to identify. He said the workers sold the jewelry over about two months. Officers check pawn shop records for anything unusual that may indicate someone has sold stolen property.
Carroll said there is no indication that the workers are not telling the truth about how they came upon the jewelry. "It appears it was lost property found during the course of their work in the sewer system," he said.
About 25 million gallons of sewage flows through Modesto's roughly 670 miles of sewers each day. Workers use high-pressure hoses to flush out the lines. They use a device to pull samples from the lines to check for grease, tree roots, diapers and other debris that can clog sewers.
The workers may have found the jewelry because the city has increased its efforts to reduce sewage spills and part of that includes taking a closer look at what's in the sewers, said Gary DeJesus, Modesto's deputy director of public works for waste water.
Good finds unusual
DeJesus said it's rare for workers to find spare change, let alone anything of real consequence in the sewers.
"In my 18 years (in managing sewers), this is the first time I've heard of this kind of dollar value being found," DeJesus said.
City officials declined to identify the three sewer workers or say whether they face discipline because the police investigation has not been completed. Carroll said the city is developing a policy to address similar situations in the future.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.