It’s the kind of thing Sean Holley had seen only in the movies. Somebody stumbles across a duffel bag stuffed with stolen cash tucked inside a discarded safe.

On Friday morning, he was that somebody.

Holley was midway through his morning shift at Republic Services recycling center in Inver Grove Heights when a big bulky safe came down the conveyor belt. He looked inside and saw a gym bag pinched in the corner of the safe, which appeared to have been sawed open. As he wrestled the bag from the safe, receipts and a checkbook fell out, followed by an envelope with a rubber band around it.

“I thought, no way,” Holley said recounting the adrenaline-filled moment. “I’ve seen this in the movies, but sure enough, there were plenty of $100 bills. Shocking, because I’ve never seen that amount of cash, never had $1,000 in my hand.”

The pile of Benjamin Franklins added up to $21,000, which Holley turned over to his manager, who in turn called police.

As it turns out, the loot belonged to the Casablanca Market in Hopkins. Thieves had broken into the store around 4 a.m. July 23 and carted off the safe. At least three, and possibly four, men carried out the crime in anything but “Ocean’s Eleven” style, said Sgt. Mike Glassberg of the Hopkins Police Department.

The culprits apparently broke in through the front door. Though they disabled the store’s surveillance system, nearby cameras caught them going in and out of the store, eyeing an automated teller machine and loading the safe into a dark-colored Nissan Armada. Furthermore, the crooks hung around the area after the crime, Glassberg said.

“It was not the smoothest burglary I have ever seen,” Glassberg said.

Five days later, the 200-pound safe showed up in the garbage at Republic Services. Holley said it appeared to be in good shape except for the bottom where somebody had apparently used a saw to get inside.

Holley and a co-worker lifted the safe off the conveyor belt and discovered the loot inside.

Was he tempted to keep any of the money? “My motto is do right by others, so we turned it in,” Holley said. “It was a peculiar situation. I thought this had to be stolen. Nobody is going to throw 20 grand away.”

Glassberg thanked the honest employees for returning their find.

The market at 716 11th Av. S. has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. That is being matched by the Hopkins Police Crime Fund. Anybody with information can call 952-938-8885.