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Treasurer Fitzpatrick highlights unclaimed property finds from safe deposit boxes

Treasurer Fitzpatrick highlights unclaimed property finds from safe deposit boxes

February 21st, 2019 by Bob Watson in News

Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick shows some of the unclaimed properties from safe deposit boxes Wednesday at the state Treasurer's office. Old baseball cards, watches, medals and even an old clown suit were on display.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

A clown costume was hanging at the end of a display table in state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick's Capitol office.

It was the only item found in a safe deposit box in Missouri that was declared "abandoned" under the state's unclaimed properties law, and turned over to Fitzpatrick's staff.

"This clown suit was (found) just a couple of weeks ago," he told the News Tribune while showing a number of the items displayed in his office, so reporters could talk about the program — and maybe even help find some of the property's owners or heirs.

"There's a lot of interesting stuff here that obviously we would like to get back to the people who own it — so that's why we're doing this (display), to try to raise awareness about the stuff we get," Fitzpatrick explained. "We get about 1,000 safe deposit boxes a year, and the unclaimed properties division has to open all the boxes and make an inventory of their contents."

On its website, showmemoney.com, the treasurer's office explained: "Each year, financial institutions, businesses, government agencies and other organizations turn over millions of dollars in cash, and the contents of safe deposit boxes, to the treasurer's office.

"These entities are required to turn over unclaimed property to the state treasurer's office after there has been no document transaction or contact with the owner for five years."

Fitzpatrick said: "One in 10 Missourians has unclaimed property."

The average return is $300, the website said.

Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, was sworn-in as state treasurer five weeks ago, after Gov. Mike Parson named him to succeed former Treasurer Eric Schmitt, who now is Missouri's attorney general after Josh Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate.

He had been chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2017 and 2018.

"Honestly, one of the things you don't think about, from a lawmaker's perspective, is the safe deposit stuff," he said. "When you think of unclaimed property, you think about bank accounts, cash and money.

"But a lot of this stuff has value."

He noted: "There's over $50,000 worth of gold coins."

There was an 1862 U.S. $1 bill, featuring the portrait of then Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Morgan.

"That's worth, probably, between $500 and $1,000," Fitzpatrick said.

The collection displayed Wednesday also included a number of family photographs and other pictures taken from various abandoned safe deposit boxes — including one autographed by former Cardinals star Stan Musial, who died six years ago.

Someone had saved a copy of a newspaper announcing President Franklin Roosevelt's death in 1945 and Harry S Truman's taking the oath of office to succeed him.

And there was a copy of a land grant from the 1850s, bearing the signature of then-President James Buchanan, who served from 1857-61 — although, Fitzpatrick said, federal law allowed the president's secretary to sign the president's name, so it's not certain if the signature actually is Buchanan's.

Scott Harper heads a 17-member staff in the Unclaimed Properties office, and their job includes trying to find the rightful owners of the property that's turned over to the state.

The money is kept in the state's "abandoned" fund, and can be claimed at any time because, Fitzpatrick said, "The right to claim never goes away."

However, the state holds the items from safe deposit boxes for a shorter period of time.

Fitzpatrick said: "We'll keep it for four or five years and, if we're not able to get it returned" to the proper owners or their heirs, then "we have an unclaimed properties auction every year."

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That auction is dictated at least partly by the limited amount of storage space the treasurer has in the basement of the Truman State Office Building, and then "the cash that is generated by (the sale of) that item will become what the person who had the claim on that property" will get, the treasurer said.

And, Harper said, the state keeps track of the buyers so an heir could try to recover the physical property.

Fitzpatrick hopes people who see this story will check to see if they have unclaimed property at the state.

That information can be searched online, through a link on showmemoney.com.

"We are aggressive in getting it returned," Fitzpatrick said. "If (people) find their name and click on the account they want to claim, it's not a very difficult process, most of the time, to get that money."

He also urged people to make sure they get deposits back on apartments or utilities — although he acknowledged a significant part of unclaimed property involves accounts and deposit boxes of people who have died or who have serious illnesses.

Still, he said: "This is not our money. These are not our belongings.

"We're holding them to try to get them back to people."

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