(Adds details through to reflect exclusive interview with the waiter)
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES, Dec 18 (Reuters) - An Applebee's waiter in central California turned over $32,000 in cash that a family forgot at a table, an amount that exceeds his annual salary after taxes, because it was the right thing to do, the waiter told Reuters in an exclusive interview on Friday.
Brian Geery, 33, said he found a canvas pouch at a table in the restaurant where he works in Fresno after a family finished eating, and noticed a rectangular shape inside.
He showed the pouch to his manager, who suggested it might contain medicine, and at his boss's suggestion Geery opened the pouch to check.
The rectangular shape was a stack of bills.
"I couldn't believe it, I'd never seen so much cash in my life before," Geery said.
Carrie Hellyer, Applebee's regional director, said Geery declined a reward from the family, and initially withheld his name from media outlets wishing to cover the story.
"He just said that he did it because it was the right thing to do and he didn't want the right thing being overwhelmed by anything else," Hellyer said.
Geery, a 10-year Applebee's veteran who said the money exceeded his annual income after taxes, gave the pouch to his manager and went back to waiting tables.
"I'm a big believer in karma," he said. "I just feel like you treat others as you would want to be treated."
The cash was picked up by police later in the day, said Fresno police spokesman Lieutenant Joe Gomez.
When the family called police on Thursday to report the loss, arrangements were made for them to pick it up at the station, Gomez said.
Underscoring the waiter's honesty, Hellyer said there was no surveillance camera in the area where the family left their money.
Gomez said the money was returned to the family only after a detective determined it was obtained legally. The cash came from rental properties and a Mexican restaurant the family operates in San Jose, he said.
"You know how some people don't use banks, I think they're that type of person," he said.
The family had attempted to rent a safe deposit box at a bank on Wednesday, but one was not immediately available, he added. As a result, he said, they had the cash with them at Applebee's when they went there to eat and simply forgot it. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Dan Grebler, Sharon Bernstein and Ken Wills)