This is the story of a cashier’s check worth $10,692.60 that was tucked away in a drawer and found after 19 years.
Yes, you read that right.
But the owner has yet to get the money and has been on an emotional roller coaster ride in the last seven months to determine if he can be reunited with what is definitely more than a few bucks.
Richard Fugo of Northfield Village phoned me in early August after reading about unclaimed funds. You can read it at http://tinyurl.com/abjunclaimedfunds .
Fugo told me that he had been fighting with Charter One Bank over a cashier’s check that he stumbled upon in his files in February. Fugo had been cleaning out files after a move into a new house and had a thick folder with what he thought was old bank records, including his passbook for an account at Charter One.
The folder sat on the fireplace ledge waiting to be thrown in for some time. Fugo decided to open the folder and look through it.
“I was shocked. I thought to myself: ‘This is a cashier’s check. It has to be good,’ ” Fugo said. Among the paperwork that Fugo found was the original cashier’s check with the carbon copy still attached and the passbook for the account.
Fugo said he remembers in 1993 closing one of his Charter One accounts. His father had taught him to diversify his funds, so he had and still has several accounts at Charter One and other area banks. He decided to cash out the one account to look for a better interest rate.
“Life got in the way. You know what? I forgot about it,” he said.
Fugo is now 60 and nearing retirement. But in the 1990s, Fugo, who owned a high-tech vehicle electronics company installing cell phones, remote starts and security systems, said he lived and breathed the business while raising three kids.
“I worked very hard for that money. You have to ride the wave in every business and that was my wave,” he said. “The ’90s were a thriving decade. I did good.”
The mistake Fugo said he made was where he decided to cash the check. Instead of taking it to his Charter One branch, he deposited it into another account at another bank.
The bank clerk said everything looked fine and deposited the check.
But 21 days later in early March, Fugo received a letter from the bank where he deposited the money saying the check had been returned as a “non cash item” and his account was being debited the $10,692.60 that was originally credited. A printout with a digital image of his original check was included in the letter.
That sent Fugo to Charter One to try to figure out what happened. Fast-forward to early August when Fugo called me and was still waiting for an answer.
Understandably, when Fugo contacted me, he was quite upset. He didn’t understand how what he called his “legal tender” could be turned down. His wife, Tami, who worked at Charter One until mid-August, had also tried to get some information about what happened to the check. (Fugo had not told Tami about the check when he initially deposited it, trying to keep her out of the situation. Tami Fugo has since resigned her job from the bank for other reasons.)
Charter One spokeswoman Sylvia Bronner said the bank could not discuss individual customers for privacy reasons and issued this statement: “If a check is not cashed or reissued, our policy is to escheat the funds to the state after five years as required by law. We work with customers to help them understand the process for recovering any funds that the state may be holding for them.” (Escheat is a fancy word for turning the money over to the state.)
In other words, if there were any funds for Fugo, they would be with Ohio’s Division of Unclaimed Funds.
When I contacted Dennis Ginty, spokesman for the Division of Unclaimed Funds, he said there were no records of any funds turned over for Fugo.
It seemed like a dead end for Fugo.
A letter to Fugo from Charter One dated Aug. 31 said the bank had conducted extensive research and “due to the amount of time that has elapsed since this check was issued, there is no information available to indicate the disposition of this check and/or the proceeds of the check.”
The bank went on to say that a check that had not been cashed or reissued would have been sent to the state after five years. Records for the bank for items sent back to the state would only be kept for five years, the bank said.
Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel for the American Bankers Association, said the mystery of Fugo’s check was interesting. Feddis also said that the funds would have to be sent to the state after a certain amount of time.
Fugo’s situation is an extreme example to remind consumers that they should cash checks as soon as possible, Feddis said.
According to the Uniform Commercial Code, which has similar properties under each state’s law, banks are not obligated to pay a check after six months, she said.
“My bank is not obliged to pay it,” Feddis said of a check that is more than six months old. “It can send it back, but they can pay it, but that’s between you and me.”
Feddis said it was possible that Fugo might be out the money if the records from the bank to the state could not be matched with his check.
Glimmer of hope
As of last week, Fugo received a new glimmer of hope.
For the year 1999, the year funds from 1993 would have been sent to the state (it went on a calendar year, the state says), the division received a lump-sum check for $99,214.10 from Charter One for what was called “unknown accounts.” In other words, the bank did not have any records for the holders of that collective cash.
I asked the state whether that was unusual. In a further review, the state says it has nearly 1 million (962,168) accounts among its outstanding 4.5 million accounts that are listed with “unknown” names. That’s for a total of more than $572 million dollars.
Ginty, the division spokesman, said the state tries hard to stress with companies and institutions that they turn over as much documentation of dollar amounts, last known addresses or any information if they don’t have names, in order to try to connect the funds with the rightful owner.
There are times when the state is able to connect the dots enough to issue checks, he said. Since it was established in 1968, the division has paid about 21,000 claims worth nearly $212 million from those unknown funds, he said.
I asked Ginty for other amounts that Charter One had turned over in unknown accounts during that general time period, from 1997 to 2001. The total amount of unknown funds turned over was more than $710,000. Ginty could not say whether that was a large amount when compared to other unknown accounts.
Charter One’s Bronner declined further comment when contacted about the unknown account funds sent to the state over the years.
So here’s where Fugo’s case stands now. The state is still waiting to see if Charter One has further records to show the dollar amounts of unknown accounts that led to the $99,000 check to the state. Also on Wednesday afternoon, Fugo received a phone call from the head of the unclaimed funds division, Yaw Obeng. Obeng was under the impression that Fugo had the original check, but still told Fugo that with all of the documentation he had, he would be getting a check from the state. The state would be sending Fugo a package to send the originals to the state.
Ginty was a little more guarded, saying the state would be conducting a thorough review of Fugo’s documents in hopes of reuniting him with his funds.
Fugo is a little nervous about parting with the original documents, but is cautiously optimistic.
“I feel that the state stepped in. The bank is not willing to do anything. They’ve closed the book on it. The state is attempting to make good on it,” he said. “I didn’t find an old ripped up, crumbled check. It didn’t go through the washing machine. The burden of proof falls on them.”
Fugo said he’s hopeful the state will come through, but he would consider a lawsuit against the bank to try to get his funds.
Let’s hope the check will be in the mail — literally — after the investigation. I’ll keep you updated.