Talk about a good ending to one man’s quest for what he believed was rightfully his.
Rick Fugo was a Northfield Village man I wrote about in 2012. He was trying to get reunited with a $10,692.60 check he found after nearly 20 years.
Fugo stumbled upon a cashier’s check from 1993 in his files in February of 2012 as he was cleaning and almost threw it in his fireplace. He said he remembers closing a Charter One account in 1993 and had meant to look for a better interest rate, but instead tucked it in his passbook.
But Fugo, who owned a high-tech vehicle electronics company installing cellphones, remote starts and security systems, said he got busy in the 1990s since business was so good and while raising three children.
He said he forgot about the check. When he found it in 2012, he deposited it at one of his local banks. When it was returned a few weeks later as a “noncash item,” his quest began.
Fugo spent a few months arguing with Charter One before finding out that the bank turned the money over to the state of Ohio’s Division of Unclaimed Funds.
Fugo tried to claim the money via the state and was denied. The state said it was unable to verify whether the check had ever been cashed before or re-issued.
To make matters more confusing, when Charter One handed over its unclaimed money in 1999, the year Fugo’s money would have gone to the state, it sent a lump sum of $99,214 in “unknown accounts” with no names or addresses attached. The bank had also long ago destroyed any paperwork associated with the funds in a normal purge.
Pursuing his options, Fugo represented himself and first lost at an Unclaimed Funds hearing in early 2013 at the Ohio Department of Commerce. He appealed with the help of an attorney friend.
On Dec. 19, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Kimberly Cocroft agreed with Fugo and ordered that his money be returned to him.
Late last week, Fugo received a check for $12,208.31, which included $1,515.71 in interest.
There are complicated rules about when unclaimed funds earn interest. The bottom line is that Fugo’s money only earned interest for four of the 15 years the state had his money.
But for Fugo, getting the amount with some interest was a validation.
“It’s a heck of a story,” Fugo said. “They lost and I have my money.”
Fugo said he was shocked when he finally won. But he believed all along that he was due his money.
“I almost started to give up,” said Fugo.
The state could have taken the appeal decision one step further, but decided against it. Fugo’s attorney, Sergey Kats with Kats Law in Shaker Heights, said he was told Fugo’s case was the highest anyone had ever fought the state for unclaimed funds.
Brian Hoyt, director of communications for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said the state believed it needed to follow the proper process for documentation.
By Fugo winning on appeal, “That gives us the ability to then go ahead and complete the transaction. With that court order, we have, if you will, an appropriate paper trail that satisfies the proof of ownership from our perspective.”
Hoyt said no one ever thought Fugo was lying. “It’s one of those identification burdens you really want there. If you had money that was owed you, you wouldn’t want someone else to come in and get it.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to return unclaimed funds to its rightful owner. We’re glad that we have an authority that was given to us for proof of ownership.”
Charter One declined comment.
When I first wrote about Fugo’s lost check, I phoned Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel for the American Bankers Association. Feddis said Fugo’s situation was an extreme example to remind consumers that they should cash checks as soon as possible. By law, banks are not obligated to pay a check after six months and Feddis said it was probably unlikely that Fugo would get the money.
When I told Feddis of Fugo’s success, she was pleasantly surprised. She theorizes that the key was that Charter One had turned over that large sum of money in one lump sum without names attached and that Fugo had proof of his check.
Feddis said she had never heard of anything like Fugo’s case.
There’s no good explanation for why Charter One turned over such a large sum without names attached, but Feddis said banks’ primary goal is to get the unclaimed money turned over to the state in a timely manner or face other problems.
Fugo’s case “demonstrates the need to stay up to date on your finances and keep track and make deposits as soon as possible. That’s the lesson here, you don’t want to go through this,” she said.
The state’s attorneys were worried that Fugo’s case might “open the floodgates” to the other portion of that lump sum that was handed over in 1999, but Fugo said people would have to prove the money was theirs.
“I had so much proof. You can’t just call them and say I believe I have money there,” he said.
Fugo will pay his attorney $3,500, which still leaves him more than $8,700.
The check was deposited last week and has cleared.
He’s going to buy a used Harley Davidson motorcycle for him and his wife. They currently have a 1967 cycle, but it’s not comfortable for both of them to ride.
“I’m buying something that will never depreciate, never be put in a drawer and never be forgotten about.”