CHICAGO -- Since finding an estimated $150,000 in his vegetable garden last week and turning it over to police, Wayne Sabaj said he's hired a lawyer, his phone has been ringing constantly and the whole thing has been "just another headache."
From everyday folks to news media from Chicago, New York and Canada, the McHenry County, Ill., man is asked the same question: Why didn't he just keep the money for himself?
"Because it wasn't my money," insists Sabaj, a 49-year-old carpenter out of work for three years. "I just figured I did the right thing."
If no one claims the money and Sabaj receives it, his first expense will be to get his teeth fixed, he said.
Sabaj, who lives with his 78-year-old father, said he fails to see what all the fuss is about, but says it could be the reality of living in a greedy world.
"I guess if everyone did everything they should do ... the right thing, I don't think we would think this story was such a big deal," he said.
McHenry County Sheriff's Department Lt. James Popovits calls the case unique and said that while he has seen instances of people turning over found money, it's never been of this amount.
Investigators are working with the state's attorney's office, Popovits said, adding that some of the money would be sent to the state crime lab for further examination. He declined to give the specific amount of money, a description of the bag or denomination of the bills.
Popovits said there have been inquiries from "a handful of other agencies" in the Chicagoland area and Wisconsin, where there have been high-dollar burglaries, but none proved to be connected with this money. There also have been no crimes in the county involving such a sum, Popovits said.
Robert Burke, Sabaj's attorney, described his client as "a very nice guy, just very honest."
"I've been polling people informally and it is a 50-50 split on what they would have done with it," Burke said.
Burke said he will file an affidavit Tuesday in McHenry County under the Lost Property Act, then file a claim in the county clerk's office so Sabaj can claim the money if no one else does.
"I think he's going to get the money," Burke said. "I don't know that anyone is going to come forward."
However, authorities say it may not be that easy.
Jessica Drahos, assistant state's attorney, said after one year and 51 days from filing with the court clerk's office, Sabaj could re-assert a claim for the money if the true owner is not identified. However, he is not necessarily guaranteed to receive the money, Drahos said, declining to elaborate.
If Sabaj had his way, he would return to work as a carpenter and resume his quiet, unassuming life.
"I got my tools and stuff, maybe I'd start making furniture," he said. "I'm not doing much of anything (now). I got no money to buy materials to make anything."
(c)2011 the Chicago Tribune
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