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$150,000 found in garden split between son, neighbor’s daughter

Wayne Sabaj 2011. | Sun-Times Files

Wayne Sabaj in 2011. | Sun-Times Files

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Updated: August 13, 2013 6:37AM

The $150,000 cash cache that Wayne Sabaj discovered in his garden will be split between his son and the daughter of his elderly neighbor, who dumped the money because she believed it was cursed.

“They both get a chunk,” said attorney J. Kevin McBride, who represented Dolores Johnson — the long-time neighbor who in 2011 literally threw her life savings over her backyard fence into Sabaj’s garden.

The confidential settlement approved Thursday by a McHenry County judge ends a bizarre mystery that saw the unemployed carpenter turn in the windfall to police, but then die before his legal claim to the cash could be settled.

Sabaj, 51, passed away earlier this month of natural causes in his home near McHenry, authorities said.

Johnson, his long-time neighbor, died last December at age 87 — leaving the cash in limbo.

The owner of a Naperville liquor store also filed a claim, contending the money was stolen from him in a 2010 robbery.

That claim was dropped earlier this year, leaving attorneys for Johnson and Sabaj to work out a settlement.

Both ended up agreeing the cash belonged to Johnson, whose adult daughter was able to describe how the wads of $20 bills were bundled in the two nylon sacks Sabaj found on Aug. 29, 2011.

Johnson’s daughter, Diane Howe, will receive a share of the money, though attorneys for each family declined to disclose specifics.

But Sabaj’s adult son, Kevin, 23, also will get some of the cash his father promptly turned in, even though he was nearly broke himself.

“When Wayne found this money . . . his first thought was to call the police,” said Sabaj’s attorney, Robert Burke. “He had a lot of reasons to just keep the money and be quiet about it, but he did what he thought was the right thing and turned it in.”

Sabaj’s son essentially will receive “a finder’s fee,” Burke said, adding Kevin Sabaj is “content” with his share of the cash.

The younger Sabaj was in court but declined to comment.

Johnson had saved the money for years in her home because she “didn’t like banks,” McBride said.

But she later tossed the money over her fence to get rid of it.

“She threw it out because she claimed the money was cursed,” said McBride.

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