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Lawsuit Seeks to Stop California From Selling Unclaimed Property


The State of California is delaying the sale of more than five billion dollars in forgotten and unclaimed assets. A property rights group is suing the state, claiming it has not tried hard enough to find the legal owners of the unclaimed property. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

Property owner Wiilliam Palmer says sorting through the property is a huge task. "This has been done on a monumental scale."

Property owners attorney William Palmer accuses California's Bureau of Unclaimed Property of theft. He is suing the state for failing to give proper notice to the more than eight million owners whose property is now in the state's custody.

The items include family heirlooms, rare coins, stocks and bonds and even rare Hollywood memorabilia -- property that Palmer says the state now claims as its own. "I don't know how you reunite people with their property if you don't even tell them that you've taken their property."

California officials argue the lost items were turned over to the state by insurance companies and banks after three years of inactivity. Robin Johansen, an attorney for the state says California has the right to liquidate the assets. "As all of these statutes provide, and as the U.S. Supreme Court has said, "It's perfectly constitutional; the state gets the use of it - not the bank.""

But the California Taxpayer's Association says the state has not tried hard enough to reunite owners with their property. Most states require the publication of owners names but California provides only a website (www.sco.ca.gov).

Association spokesman David Kline says the site once listed California's governor as an unlocated owner. He says even the state's unclaimed property office was once listed as missing. "It shows the state's notification system needs to be improved. If the State Bureau couldn't find it's own money, then how are you or I going to have a chance to find our money?"

Revenue from the sale of unclaimed property is used to boost the state's budget. California's new state controller has imposed a moratorium on the sale of unclaimed property while the state considers ways to improve the search for owners. The state estimates the delay will cost an estimated $127 million in lost revenue.

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