NYT: Finding Cash in Walls, and Reaping Grief

A contractor who found $182,000 in Depression-era currency hidden in a bathroom wall has ended up with only a few thousand dollars, but he feels some vindication.

CLEVELAND 2008.11.08
In the end, a contractor who found $182,000 in Depression-era currency hidden in bathroom walls received just a few thousand dollars and, he feels, some vindication.

The discovery amounted to little more than grief for the contractor, Bob Kitts, who could not agree on how to divide the money with the home’s owner, Amanda Reece.

It did not help Ms. Reece’s financial situation either. She testified in a deposition that she was considering bankruptcy, and a bank recently foreclosed on one of her properties.

As for the 21 descendants of Patrick Dunne — a wealthy businessman who stashed money that was minted in a time of bank collapses and joblessness, only to have it divvied up decades later in a somewhat similar economic climate — they will each get a small fraction of the find.

“I called it the greed case,” said Gid Marcinkevicius, a lawyer who represents the Dunne estate.

“If these two individuals had sat down and resolved their disputes and divided the money, the heirs would have had no knowledge of it,” Mr. Marcinkevicius said. “Because they were not able to sit down and divide it in a rational way, they both lost.”

Mr. Kitts, who called his discovery “the ultimate contractor fantasy,” was tearing out the bathroom walls of an 83-year-old home near Lake Erie on a spring day in 2006 when he discovered two green lockboxes suspended by a wire below the medicine chest. Inside were envelopes with the return address for the P. Dunne News Agency.

“I ripped the corner off of one,” Mr. Kitts said in a deposition in a lawsuit filed by Mr. Dunne’s estate. “I saw a 50 and got a little dizzy.”

Inside the envelopes was $157,000. And a cardboard box in another wall held about $25,000.

Mr. Kitts called Ms. Reece, who had hired him for a remodeling project, at work. She got there within 45 minutes.

They counted the cash, piled it on the dining room table and posed for photographs. Both grinned like lottery jackpot winners holding an oversize check.

But how to share? She offered 10 percent. He wanted 40 percent. From there things went sour.

A month after The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the case in December 2007, the Dunne estate sued, claiming the rights to the money.

By then there was little left to claim.

Ms. Reece testified in a deposition that she had spent about $14,000 on a trip to Hawaii with her mother and sold some of the rare late-1920s bills on eBay and to a coin dealer. She said that about $60,000 was stolen from a shoe box in her closet but testified that she never reported the theft to the police.

Mr. Kitts said that Ms. Reece accused him of stealing the money and that she began leaving him threatening phone messages. Mr. Marcinkevicius said that he did not believe the money was stolen but that he could not prove otherwise.

After Ms. Reece dropped her claim to the remaining $25,230, the Cuyahoga County probate magistrate, Charles Brown, last month gave Mr. Kitts 13.7 percent and the rest to Mr. Dunne’s heirs.

If the currency is sold at an appraised value of $38,592, Mr. Kitts will get $5,287 and each of the 21 heirs will receive $1,586. One heir, Mary Curtis, who testified in court about her uncle’s wealth, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Mr. Brown said that the $157,000 would belong to the heirs because the envelopes bore Mr. Dunne’s name.

And Mr. Brown determined that the $25,000 in the cardboard box would belong to the property owner, Ms. Reece, but since she dropped her claim, Mr. Kitts should get the money because he found it.

Ms. Reece did not keep the money from the two finds separate, so Mr. Brown decided to divide the remaining $25,230 on a prorated basis.

Ms. Reece, a mortgage loan officer, testified in a deposition that she was buried in debt, in part because of the real estate meltdown. She is loaded with credit card debt, and properties she bought in 2003 and 2004, near the peak of the real estate boom, have lost value.

A bank foreclosed on a Cleveland house she owns with $60,750 due on a $62,300 mortgage that she took out a week after the money was found.

Ms. Reece’s phone has been disconnected, and her lawyer, Robert Lazzaro, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Mr. Kitts’s contractor business, he said, has finally picked up again. He said he lost a lot of business because media reports portrayed him as greedy.

“I was not the bad guy that everybody made me out to be,” Mr. Kitts said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Don’t be greedy aside, she should have used my real estate attorney who put clause something like by signing, the seller’s gave up his/her right to whatever is in the house that include any future award (i.e. architectural), etc. I’m telling you, Noo Yawkers are just smarter. I don’t see the point that she had to share it with the contractor. He might get a nice bonus.

2006年春天一个克利夫兰的承包商发现了藏在卫生间墙里面的$182,000, $175,000包在有公司名的信封里 $25,000在纸盒里. 长话短说,因为屋主和承包商不能达成协议:屋主只愿意提供10% 但是承包商想要40%,吵吵闹闹于是故事于2007年12月见报。 一个月后,二十一位钱主的后代也纷纷粉墨登场, 告上法庭,争杯美羹。

屋主 觉得钱应该是她的
承包商 觉得他发现了, 所以应该分一些
21 后代 觉得那是他们祖上的,当然应该是他们的

最后法庭 (遗嘱知县) 裁判定: $175,000 应该是属于21位钱主后代, $25,000 属于现任屋主. 但是屋主已经撤销了她的索赔, $25,000 属于承包商. 到裁定时屋主已经花了大部分的钱, 只剩下$25,230. 最终 承包商得到 13.7%,  21位钱主后代得到其余的.

我的见解

  • 承包商诚实 但是也有点贪心
  • 二人应该解决这个问题
  • 那地方没有好律师 – 我对我的地产律师印象特别深 因为在签字时,他耐心的一条一条给我们解释,记得其中一条是 房子卖了以后,天上地下墙里面的都是我们的了, 包括未来的奖项(比如 建筑奖, 花园奖… ). 我当时觉得好笑, 还觉得他真罗嗦!

我的结论

Talking about real estate attorneys, they’re like doctors, only when you have a problem/sick would you know if he or she is really worth your trust. A friend bought a brand new house. She carefully timed the selling of her old house a day after the scheduled delivery day. Unfortunately the builder would delay for more than a month. Without certificate of occupancy, they couldn’t move in. The friend lives with her sister and three children but didn’t want to spend extra money to live in a hotel. I asked her, why didn’t the lawyer write this into the contract? She replied, “my lawyer (a Chinese) said, there’s no way they would have agreed.” I thought about my Jewish lawyer, there’s no way that he would not have asked.

The different attorneys/doctors/contractors/anyone, sure will make a different outcome.

  • Mr. Peter Hall, the skillful renter 侯先生,熟悉法律的租客 – 每个房东的噩梦

 

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