A New York City cabbie said he returned a lost purse containing more than $21,000 in cash and expensive jewelry because his mother always advised him to be honest.

"I'm broke, but I'm honest," said  Mohammad  Asadujjaman, 28.

Felicia Lettieri, of Pompeii, Italy, and six relatives had taken two cabs from midtown Manhattan to Penn Station on Christmas Eve.

The 72-year-old Lettieri left her purse behind, with more than $21,000 of the group's traveling money, jewelry worth thousands more, and some of their passports.

Relatives said Lettieri went to a 42nd Street police station, where officers tried to track down the cabbie -- but told her not to get her hopes up.

"Everybody said, 'This is New York. Forget about it. You lost everything,' " said her sister, Francesca Lettieri, 79, of Patchogue.

>> PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of Mohammad Asadujjaman and an ecstatic Francesca Lettieri

>>VIDEO: Click here to see the heroic tale in the words of the cab driver

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The cabbie, a native of Bangladesh who is known as Mukal, saw the rolls of euros when he opened the bag to look for an address, but didn't even count the money. "My mother is my inspiration," the soft-spoken cabbie said. "She always said to be honest and work hard."

The cabbie called a friend with a car and drove some 50 miles to a Patchogue address he found in the purse. No one was home, so Asadujjaman left his cell phone number and a note.

 "He left a note saying, 'Don't worry, Felicia. I know this is important to you. I'll keep it safe,' " Felicia Lettieri's daughter, Maria Rosaria Falonga, said from her Pompeii home Monday.

His phone rang a short time later and he drove back to return the bag.

"They were so, so, so happy," Asadujjaman beamed.

Felicia Lettieri has returned to Pompeii and could not immediately be reached for comment. Her sister said "If it wasn't for him, it would be a miserable vacation."

"We really love what he did."

The immigrant is a full-time student at a city college near his apartment in Jamaica. He began driving a cab three months ago for a few days a week, after his hours were cut back at a former factory job.

Asked if he was tempted to keep the cash, Asadujjaman acknowledged the money would have allowed him more time to study, "but my heart said this is not good."

He also turned down a reward, saying he could not accept it as an observant Muslim.

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"I'm needy, but I'm not greedy," said Asadujjaman. "It's better to be honest."

>> PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of Mohammad  Asadujjaman and an ecstatic Francesca Lettieri