By Joy Bergmann
On Thursday afternoon, Aiya Tulemaganbetova expressed her gratitude toward the man who saved her Christmas by returning $10,000 she lost on a subway platform. Calling Richard Taverna “a golden person of great strength and honesty,” she presented him with a golden statue from her native Kazakhstan during a press conference at NYPD’s 20th Precinct.
WSR broke the Christmas miracle story last month and discovered new details today.
Tulemaganbetova, a real estate consultant and Upper West Sider from 61st Street, had spent the morning of December 20th running errands in anticipation of her first trip back to Kazakhstan in over a year. “I had to get to Michael’s [the craft/hobby store] before my flight that evening,” she said. “Everybody wants slime and glitter and things you can’t get in Kazakhstan.” She said she also packed $10,000 in her purse to share with her family and to purchase gifts there as fewer and fewer places in the region accept credit cards. Carrying too many bags and in a rush, she accidentally left her blue Chanel purse with the cash on the northbound subway platform at 66th and Broadway.
She rode the 1 train only one stop to 72nd Street before discovering her mistake. She immediately headed back to 66th, but by then the bag and the money were gone. Tulemaganbetova quickly filed a police report and managed to make her plane. Though she felt crestfallen during the flight, she said a prayer, “I hope whoever finds the money does something good with it.”
Unbeknownst to her, Richard Taverna, a retiree and Upper West Sider from 107th Street, had spotted the bag on the platform after his workout at the nearby YMCA. Once he discovered the $10,000 inside, he soon made his way to the 20th Precinct in hopes the rightful owner might be found. Officers there discovered the report of the missing money and notified Tulemaganbetova’s business partner who reached her with the good news less than 24 hours after the loss. “I was so happy!” she said. Seeking to pay forward this good fortune, she made a donation to a Kazakh children’s charity in Richard’s name.
Grateful woman met her Good Samaritan today at @NYPD20Pct.
Aiya lost $10,000 on a subway platform. Richard found it and turned it in.
Happy New Year to both of these Upper West Siders! @westsiderag pic.twitter.com/rGRB59zjIL
— Joy Bergmann (@JoyBergmann) January 10, 2019
The two embraced upon meeting for the first time Thursday afternoon. Taverna maintained his stance that his returning the money was no big deal. “I knew somebody was probably pretty upset and missing it,” he said. “I hope it inspires others.”
Taverna’s daughter, Elise, was alongside for the meeting. She wasn’t the least bit surprised her dad returned the money. “He always does the right thing,” she said.
“It’s not only the best of the Upper West Side, it’s the best of New York,” said Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin of the 20th Precinct.
Even hardened NYPD press representatives had to marvel at the sweetness of it all. “In 13 years of doing media, I’ve never done a story like this,” said Sgt. Carlos Nieves from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information. “This was a gift.”