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Only Scruples Stop Housekeeper From Cleaning Up : Honesty: Employee never considered keeping bag of jewels valued at $100,000 left by hotel guest. Owner thought she’d never see them again.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maria Jimenez has found everything from jackets to shoes to tennis racquets left behind by residents of the rooms she cleans at the Newport Beach Marriott.

But Monday, the 23-year-old part-time housekeeper found something that couldn’t simply be dropped off at the hotel’s lost and found desk: a collection of rare jewels valued by their owner at about $100,000.

“The first thing that came to my mind was that they were worth a lot of money,” the shy Jimenez said in Spanish Wednesday. “It was beautiful jewelry.”

Jimenez said she never considered doing anything but turning in the diamond, jade and 18-carat gold jewelry.

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“I never thought about getting a reward or anything,” she said. “I just did it because that’s what my instinct was.”

The jewels belonged to 56-year-old Shirley Rich Wagner, who said Wednesday that she was certain she would never see them again.

Wagner, who stayed at the Newport Marriott during a brief vacation last weekend, checked out of the hotel Monday night and unwittingly left behind several diamond rings, diamond and jade earrings, a diamond necklace, and 18-carat gold brooch with emeralds, sapphires and rubies, a diamond bracelet and several gold chains.

Wagner said Wednesday that she was carrying the gems in a jewelry bag because several homes in her Bel-Air neighborhood had been damaged March 20 in a severe aftershock to the Northridge earthquake. Wagner said she didn’t want to lose the valuables in her home in the event that a major temblor struck again.

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“I didn’t want to leave it in the house so I took it with me,” Wagner said. “We were just going to dinner, so rather than put them in a safety deposit box, I just stuck them behind the drapes and forgot all about it.”

It wasn’t until Wagner returned home Monday night that she realized the jewels were missing.

“I was at home unpacking and I just got frantic,” she said. “I knew my jewelry was gone. It had to be. I thought there was no chance of anybody turning in that kind of jewelry.”

Wagner immediately called the hotel and was astonished and relieved to learn that the jewels were safe.

“I feel very lucky and appreciative,” Wagner said. “Here’s this person who probably doesn’t have that much money anyway and could have just as easily said that she didn’t find anything.”

Wagner is planning to return to the hotel Saturday to present Jimenez, a resident of Garden Grove, with a reward of at least $400, she said.

“I’m going to present her with a check and with a big kiss on the cheek,” Wagner said. Jimenez, who is studying to become a medical assistant, earns $6.20 an hour as a hotel housekeeper and works 20 to 30 hours a week at the Marriott. She volunteers two nights a week at the Orange County Health Care Agency’s Maternal Health Clinic in Santa Ana.

Jimenez, who discovered the jewels when she swept aside the drapes to clean an air conditioner, contacted her supervisor to ask him to come up to the room. When he didn’t answer, she picked up the jewels and nervously brought them downstairs.

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“I was scared,” said Jimenez, who has worked at the hotel for five years. “It’s really something finding jewels like that.”

As a tribute to Jimenez’s honesty, she has been selected as the Marriott’s employee of the month, said hotel spokesman Gregg Smith. A letter of commendation will also be added to her personnel file.

“Everyone at the hotel is very proud of her,” Smith said.


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