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Unemployed man finds $150,000 in his garden in McHenry County



Will a northwest suburban man be able to keep the gobs of cash he found in his backyard? There’s a good chance, experts say, but he’ll have to wait.

Under Illinois law, to claim the $150,000 — or anything worth more than $100 — Wayne Sabaj has five days to file an affadavit in McHenry County circuit court describing the property and where it was found. After the court rules on its value, Sabaj has to forward the order to the McHenry County clerk, who must then place an advertisement announcing the lost property in the local newspaper for three weeks. If the rightful owner does not claim possession within one year of the ad’s publication — or pay any associated fees — Sabaj can get a court order turning the money over to him.

Lance Northcutt, an adjunct law professor at John Marshall Law School, said Sabaj has a good shot at getting the cash.

“You can’t conceive of very many scenarios where someone would have $150,000 in cash that gets dropped in a garden. ... It probably came from less than legitimate sources.”

While some might wonder why Sabaj didn’t just keep the money without calling police, Northcutt said “he did the right thing, morally and legally. It would have been illegal for him to keep the money according to the ‘theft of losses or misplaced property’ law that’s on the books,” said Northcutt.

“It’s also illegal to obtain property knowing or having reasonable belief it was stolen,” he said.

Mitch Dudek

Roeper: The modern day Good Samaritan and the bag of cash
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Updated: November 4, 2011 7:15PM

Wayne Sabaj was cooking a pork shoulder on his grill Monday when he decided to pick some broccoli from his garden in the far northwestern suburbs. There, next to the red bell peppers and beneath the pole beans, the unemployed carpenter found more than just vegetables — a bag of money containing thousands of dollars.

McHenry County sheriff’s police came out and found another bag. Together, the bags contained $150,000, officials said.

“I’m unemployed and have no money. I lost my house a few years ago when I ran out of work,” Sabaj said.

At first, “I was worried about who would come back for it and figured I couldn’t keep it. . . . Now I’m hoping no one claims it and I get it back.”

Authorities are checking the bags for fingerprints and other evidence, police said.

McHenry County Sheriff’s office Lt. James Popovits said officials are “in the process of trying to identify who the legitimate owner of the money is. We’re networking with local, state and federal agencies to see if there have been any burglaries where large sums of money have been taken.”

There has been no major crime in the area the money was found, Popovits said. He wouldn’t speculate on the origin of the cash.

Sabaj, 49, moved back in with his father in his boyhood home in unincorporated McHenry County near Johnsburg. He said people, mostly kids, cut through the family’s backyard regularly because it is one of the only yards not surrounded by a fence.

He doesn’t think the cash was placed there until sometime Saturday because he was drinking beer around a campfire in the yard till 5 a.m. that morning.

He said the cash was in a black nylon bag, similar to one that would hold a sleeping bag.

The first bag he found had bundles of $20 bills wrapped in bank wrappers or paper­clipped together and wrapped in plastic.

When he first saw the money: “I was kind of like, ‘S - - -, man, what do I do with this?’ ” Sabaj said. “It looked like it was robbed from a bank, or was drug money.”

After consulting with his father, they decided to call police. “I didn’t need the headache,” Sabaj said.

Police came, and Sabaj suggested they “put the bags back and set up a stakeout to see who comes back for them, but they said they didn’t have the manpower,” Sabaj said.

Instead, police placed a business card in the spot where the cash was found, asking anyone looking for the cash to call them.

Whoever left the money could have done a better job of concealing it, Sabaj said.

“They’re pretty stupid to throw the money there when there’s a big pile of weeds at the end over there where no one would have seen it. They must have been in a hurry,” he said.

He’s having second thoughts about going to police, Sabaj said with a laugh.

I’m “totally broke. Unemployed. $50 to my name and here I had to turn it over. . . . What was I going to do? I should have just kept it. I’m an idiot.”

But, he added: “It’s a scary thought to have that much money in your hands because you don’t know where it came from.”

If he does get to keep it, Sabaj said one of the first things he’ll do is get false teeth — his rotted and fell out.

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