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Judge gives woman's daughter bulk of money found in garden

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County judge awarded $150,000 of found money to the daughter of a woman who believed it was cursed and tossed it over her neighbor's fence.

An agreement settled in court Thursday by McHenry County Judge Thomas Meyer gave the money to Diane Howe, with an undisclosed finder's fee to be given to Kevin Sabaj. The two are the only survivors of the owner of the cash and the man who found it in his Johnsburg vegetable garden.

The owner of the money, Dolores Johnson, died in January at age 87. She had accumulated her life savings but never deposited it in a bank.

Believing it was cursed, she threw it over her fence and into the vegetable garden of Wayne Sabaj, who discovered it in August 2011 when gathering broccoli for dinner. Sabaj, 51, died just 10 days before a judge was to decide the money's fate.

"Turns out [the curse] may have been true because unfortunately Wayne has now left us," his attorney, Robert Burke, said outside the McHenry County Courthouse.

Johnson’s daughter was able to explicitly detail the packaging of the money. It was bagged in fast-food, grocery and brown paper bags, Burke said. Some bills were bundled in bank wrapping and others in paper clips. It was primarily $20 bills, with the the newest bills from 2004.

Wayne Sabaj, an out-of-work carpenter, notified authorities when he found the money.

"He worked odd jobs here and there, and he had very little savings," Burke said. "He had a lot of reasons to keep that money and just be quiet about it, but he did what he believed was the right thing."

A Naperville liquor store owner who once tried to also claim the money withdrew his petition.

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