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Gold flush! Police investigate California sewer workers who 'made thousands of dollars by selling wedding rings lost down the toilet'
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By Katie Davies
PUBLISHED: 12:37 EST, 22 March 2013 | UPDATED: 17:02 EST, 22 March 2013
Sewer workers in Modesto, California, have discovered a money-making sideline according to police - selling on the wedding rings and other jewelry people accidentally flush down the toilet.
Police are investigating two men and one woman who work for the city after they were discovered to be selling the precious items on to pawn shops. The latest haul was $2,500 worth of rings.
Officers are looking to confirm the circumstances of how the jewelry was found and whether it is permissible for workers to keep it. They have not established whether any crime was actually committed.
Sold: These are the latest lost rings sold by the Modesto sewer workers. They made $2500 from the sale
Buyer: Modesto Gold, Jewelry and Coins employee Yvonne Brawley said the sewer workers regularly sell what they find at her shop and others across the area
And according to sewer workers elsewhere, the practice isn't uncommon.
One sewer worker told the Modesto Bee that it happens all the time.
'The only crime here is maybe the employees should of got permission or shared their treasure with all the employees,' he said.
'That job is thankless and dirty and a little bling always keeps you smiling. I say keep up the good work.'
According to Modesto Gold, Jewelry and Coins which purchased the sewer trap gems, the city workers regularly sell precious metals discovered at work at stores across the area.
'[It was] from the city sewer traps, and they cleaned it up,' employee Yvonne Brawley told ABC.
'They should be able to keep it if they found it. Nobody’s going to want it. It took a lot of work trying to get that out.'
According to the report, a lot of the jewelry comes out in twisted fragments or is strained and discolored from its journey through the sewer system.
Finders keepers: Police are investigating three sewer workers in Modesto. There are no city rules outlawing the sale of jewelry found in the sewer system
Lost: Many items are lost down toilets, in washing machines or down sinks never to return
Police were carrying out a routine audit of the pawn shop when they discovered the link.
There are apparently no city rules that tell sewer workers they can't make money in this way.
'They steam cleaned it, but it still was pretty gross,' Brawley told Modesto Bee. 'It can't be resold. No one is going to want to wear it. I can promise you that.'
James Brawley added: 'You know the old saying, finders keepers?'
According to experts, jewelry does indeed get a rough ride through the sewer system.
Carrie Mattingly, president of the California Water Environment Association, told the Bee that Sulfuric Acid used to help decomposition would rot the metal and high powered hoses would bend rings out of shape.
'It's rare to find jewelry or a necklace that is recognizable,' she said.
However, there is still money to be made. Modesto Gold melts down the metal once it is purchased from the workers so it can be recast and made into something else.
Most plumbers will try to catch something at the source of the loss if you report it quickly enough and some plumbers have been able to retrieve jewelry by sucking water out of the toilet.
However, most admit if it is flushed in an area with a municipal sewer system rather than a septic tank it is particularly difficult to catch.
In that case it'll either end up lost forever or possibly in the hands of someone else.
'You find a lot of stuff downstream of laundromats,' Mattingly added.