WOODSTOCK – A Johnsburg man who found $150,000 in his vegetable garden may have to go to court in order to keep the cash.
Under the law, the finder becomes the keeper if the owner doesn't come forward one year from the last date of a published public notice. In this case, Wayne Sabaj found the money in August 2011, and the notice was published the following month.
But two parties have since come forward claiming ownership – the family of an elderly neighbor and the parent company of a liquor store whose president had been robbed.
Police have said that the neighbor suffers from dementia. On Sept. 28, her daughter filed court documents on her behalf stating that sometime prior to June 2011, she had a large amount of cash in her home.
The daughter said she was asked to count the money in late June or early July 2011 and discovered after Sabaj turned money in that cash was missing from her mother's home.
The mother then told the daughter that she "got rid" of the money.
The other party to come forward was Nazco Enterprises, which owns Extra Value Liquors in Naperville. An attorney filed documents saying that a masked gunman robbed the company's president on Sept. 13, 2010, in the parking lot of Pebblewood Plaza, taking about $150,000 in bundles of mostly $20 and $50 bills.
Sabaj's attorney, Robert Burke, said he will discuss the possibility of splitting the money among the three parties with his client.
But he thinks Sabaj has an advantage.
"My client's in the driver's seat," Burke said. "I think the law presumes that he's entitled to the money. It's up to these other people to prove more likely than not that it's theirs."
Furthermore, Burke said he has heard that other people nearby found money as well, but he doesn't think they will come forward.
"I'll never be able to find them," he said.
If others did find money, that lends credibility to his own theory – that it was drug money that fell from a low-flying seaplane seen in the area the day before Sabaj found it in his garden.
Shortly after doing radio and TV interviews, Sabaj had gotten a death threat traced back to Jamaica, Burke said.
Sabaj, an unemployed carpenter when he found the money, has said he would use the money for dental work because he was missing teeth, including several in the front of his mouth. A dentist provided dentures free of charge.
The next court date has been set for Jan. 7. In the meantime, the money has been deposited with the court clerk pending further order of the court.