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McHenry County man who found $150,000 in garden dies

Wayne Sabaj 2011.  |  Sun-Times Library

Wayne Sabaj in 2011. | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: August 5, 2013 6:20PM

Wayne Sabaj’s elderly neighbor apparently dumped $150,000 in the garden behind his McHenry County home nearly two years ago because she thought the cash was “cursed.”

She may have been right.

Though he was broke and unemployed when he discovered the money while picking broccoli, Sabaj promptly called police and turned in the mystery cash.

He later filed a legal claim and was expected at a court hearing next week to receive a share of the cash — wads of $20 bills stuffed inside two nylon bags.

But the 51-year-old former carpenter unexpectedly died earlier this week at his home — possibly as a result of his diabetes, authorities and his attorney said.

“It’s sad,” said his attorney, Robert Burke. “A lot of people wouldn’t have done what he did. He was just a really nice guy.”

Now, his share of the cash likely will go to his estate, which includes his adult son, Burke said.

Sabaj isn’t the only one who didn’t live long enough to claim the money.

His neighbor, Dolores Johnson, whose relatives also filed a claim to retrieve the money, died last December at age 87.

Her relatives expect to receive the bulk of the $150,000 because Johnson told police after Sabaj found the money that she earlier had gotten rid of a large amount of cash, said J. Kevin McBride, the family’s attorney.

“Her statement was the money was cursed and she got it out of the house,” McBride said.

Johnson’s daughter later “described how the money was packaged and bundled in great detail,” McBride said.

That information prompted the attorneys to craft a tentative agreement that would return the bulk of the money to Johnson’s estate, both attorneys said, declining to discuss specifics.

But the agreement — which is set to be approved next week by a McHenry County judge — also gave Sabaj a share of the money as a finder’s fee.

Now, that portion is expected to go to Sabaj’s survivors, the attorneys said.

“I’m sure his estate will get something,” McBride said.

A Naperville liquor store owner who also filed a claim, contending the money was stolen during a robbery, is expected to drop his effort to obtain the money, both attorneys said.

And given the bizarre history of the case, Burke said he may pass on seeking payment for his legal work.

“I’m thinking about waiving my fee. I don’t think I want the money,” Burke said.

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