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State’s $6.1 billion cache a treasure trove for some in Auburn

Searches turn up unclaimed property people didn’t know they had
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The state of California is sitting on a $6.1 billion cache of unclaimed cash and some of that money could go into your pocket. All it takes to open the potential treasure chest is a few clicks of a mouse and a little time. The California State Controller’s Office is holding the $6.1 billion, while working to reunite residents and businesses with their rightful cash through its unclaimed property program. One of the chief focuses of the program is Controller John Chiang’s unclaimed property search engine on the office’s website at sco.ca.gov. And the efforts by the state to distribute the money are working. Controller’s Office spokesman Jacob Roper said that since 2007, more than $2 billion in cash and nearly 157 million shares have been put back in the hands of rightful owners. “In terms of returning property it has been doing fantastic,” Roper said. The Journal found out just how easy it is to locate some of that unclaimed cash on the controller’s website – and then played Santa Claus – by logging on the names of some well-known businesses and politicians. A search of all five Placer County supervisors and the five Auburn City Council members showed three of the 10 had unclaimed cash. Auburn City Councilman Bill Kirby had one of the potential paydays, with a portfolio of unclaimed property that included a share of unexchanged stock in JDS Uniphase Corp. JDS Uniphase was trading Thursday for $13.49 a share. National Health Insurance had turned over $260 to the state that it owed Kirby in insurance claims checks and a State Farm Automobile Insurance payment of $74.71 was also waiting for him to claim with the Controller’s Office. Kirby said he had heard of the Controller’s Office program. “But I haven’t paid much attention,” Kirby said. “I’m certainly going to look into it. It’s good information and I’m sure many people don’t know about it.” The other elected officials with money to collect are Supervisors Robert Weygandt and Jack Duran. Weygandt is part of a living trust due to collect $423.98 from an unclaimed Union Bank of California checking account, plus unclaimed checks from Safeco Insurance totaling $254.16. Duran’s unclaimed cash was categorized as “miscellaneous intangible property” from PayPal and was a relatively paltry $9.41. Roper said some of the unclaimed cash and stock has been sitting with the state since 1959 but can still be collected. State law requires “holders,” including corporations, business associations, financial institutions and insurance companies to report and deliver property to the Controller’s Office after there has been no customer contact for three years. Typical reasons cited for lack of contact include the owner forgetting that the account exists, someone moves and does not leave a forwarding address, or a forwarding address expires. In some cases, the owner dies and the heirs have no knowledge of the property. The unclaimed property law was enacted to prevent holders of the funds from drawing down the money and eventually turning it into business income. The Journal’s “buried treasure hunt” uncovered several well-known local businesses and organizations with money to collect from the Controller’s Office – but not huge sums. Auburn Drug Co. in Downtown Auburn, in the same location since 1926, can collect $55.99 from a United Healthcare insurance claim check held by the state. “It’s surprising they haven’t found us,” said co-owner Liz Briggs. “I’ve heard about this. I think I’ll be looking it up.” John Pesely of Encore Music learned the business could have $4.25 from Protection One Alarm coming to it. “Too bad the decimal point wasn’t in a different position but I’m definitely going to try the website,” Pesely said. The Auburn Chamber of Commerce stands to collect $50 in an insurance premium from Motorola Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bruce Cosgrove said his guess is that it’s an unclaimed telephone refund. “I don’t remember being informed so it may be that burden is on us,” Cosgrove said. “Our obligation as business owners or citizens is to due diligence and it’s good there is a mechanism there to ultimately get assets to their rightful owners.” Cosgove said that it’s still unfortunate that $6 billion in property is sitting with the state and not being of some use. “It could be used for the benefit of the citizens of the state,” Cosgrove said. “Instead, it continues to accumulate.”