Boxed out: Mystery alum donates $180K to City College of New York

NEW YORK — One did not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this was quite a gift.

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A physics professor at the City College of New York in Harlem discovered a box postmarked on Nov. 10, 2020, in the school’s mailroom. Its contents? A cool $180,000 in cash, The New York Times reported.

Vinod Menon found the cardboard box, which was as large as a toaster and required $90 in postage, in his office on Sept. 1, 2021, the newspaper reported. The priority U.S. mail package was addressed to “Chairman, Physics Department,” which is Menon’s title. It had been sitting in the campus mailroom and then in the physics office.

When Menon opened the box, he found it full of $50 and $100 bills bundled in paper bands, according to the Times.

“It was a complete shock -- I know a lot of academics and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Menon, 49, told the newspaper. “I didn’t know if the college accepted cash, so I didn’t know if they’d keep it.”

“Assuming that you are bit curious as to why I am doing this, the reason is straightforward,” the donor wrote.

The letter-writer stated that the cash was a donation meant to help physics and math students in need at the college, according to The Associated Press. It also explained that the sender was a former alum at the college who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at the school, helping the donor to “a long, productive, immensely rewarding” scientific career

The note was unsigned. The name on the box’s return address, Kyle Paisley, was not listed as a graduate in the college’s records, the Times reported.

Chief Pat Morena, the leader of the Department of Public Safety at City College, said the return address was traced to Pensacola, Florida, but did not lead to the anonymous donor’s identity, according to the AP.

“Who gets $180,000 sent to them in currency, and the person who’s sending it is anonymous?” Morena told the Times.

The package had been sitting in Menon’s office, most likely since March, Robin Cruz, who runs the mailroom, told the newspaper. It went unnoticed because Menon was teaching remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He did not check the mail in his office until Sept. 1.

“It’s crazy that it just sat in the mailroom, or even that it was sent by mail -- the person trusted the system so much,” Menon told the Times, adding that he was afraid of even touching the cash.

The money was “treated like evidence” and stored in a safe in the public safety office, the newspaper reported. Officials contacted federal authorities “to see if it was possible that this was proceeds from criminal activity,” Moreno said.

The money was clean, and on Dec. 13, the college’s Board of Trustees formally voted to accept the gift.

“That is absolutely astonishing, $180,000 in cash in a box,” the board’s chairman, William C. Thompson, said as he introduced the vote.

Asked by a board member if this was a first, Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, said, “Clearly in a box, I think it’s a first.”

“We have to bronze that box and put it in a display case as the most generous gift,” board member Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez said.