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Treasury’s Conscience Fund Received A Record $380,929.40 Last Year

March 23, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It was a banner year for guilt in 1986. Just ask the U.S. Treasury.

Americans who believed they had defrauded the government voluntarily sent in $380,929.49 last year, an all-time high for the ″conscience fund,″ set up to allow people to repay Uncle Sam for everything from twice-used postage stamps to old Army uniforms.

James Madison was in the White House when the Treasury Department fund was started back in 1811 with a $5 payment sent in by an anonymous donor who wanted to make restitution.

Over the years, $5.7 million has been received. The donations last year were up almost 50 percent from the previous year. The total was boosted by one contribution of $50,000 which arrived by check without any note of explanation from someone in Mississippi.

While the Treasury Department promises anonymity and does not delve into the actions which prompted the contributions, officials did make available some of the letters which accompanied the payments, after deleting all names.

″This afternoon I found the enclosed coin (10 cents) on the pavement. I am unable to determine who the owner is,″ wrote one exceptionally scrupulous individual.

Some of the letters refer to actions that have preyed on people’s minds for decades.

″About 58 years ago I took from a railroad station an item worth about $25 and this has been on my conscience since. So I am enclosing $50 to clear my conscience,″ one letter said.

Another person wrote, ″While serving in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II, I pilfered a small hypodermic syringe. Enclosed please find $10 which should cover the cost plus a bit of interest.″

From a former government worker who retired in 1966, ″My conscience hurts because I stole government property: two metal panel office dividers with plastic upper portion. I ask your forgiveness and say I am extremely sorry for this rotten act. Enclosed $50 bill to cover cost. (This material was second hand.) May God and you forgive me.″

Other letters relate more recent indiscretions.

One writer said that his latest tax return filing had omitted some earnings for the past year.

″My cousin told me I should report my race track winnings. Last year I won $80 at Oaklaw. Please accept this $27 in your conscience fund because this is what I owe.″

Other letters express gratitude for government assistance.

″Your federal welfare office helped me and my family when I was a kid and I am trying to pay you back,″ one writer said. ″Enclosed is $1,000 in American Express checks. My debt for myself alone is $1,275, I figure. I will try to send more later.″

The conscience fund is one of three funds handled by the department’s Financial Management Service. The largest fund is the gift fund, which received $994,444 last year and a total of $56.5 million since it was started in 1842. Money designated for this fund comes often from people expressing patriotism and gratitude for living in the United States.

While most of the donations are in small amounts, the largest gift was $878,872 in 1981.

The third account, for money designated for the military, has existed only since 1954 and has received a total of $435,000 in contributions.

Several letters to this fund last year praised President Reagan’s decision to bomb Libya.

″I only hope that if any more terrorist action is taken against any person in the world by Gadhafi you will immediately send our bombers back and level their oil fields, power supply plants and water supply systems,″ one writer said. ″I have also enclosed a check for $100 as a donation to buy jet fuel to send our planes on their way.″

The mailing address for the various funds is Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service, Treasury Annex No. 1, Room 300, Pennsylvania Ave. & Madison Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20226.

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