Unclaimed property list includes state agencies, famous Marylanders

Darcy Costello, Correspondent 

ANNAPOLIS — Ray Rice, Nancy Kopp, the University of Maryland and Carmelo Anthony aren’t just famous Maryland entities — they’ve all left behind valuables or cash in banks or financial organizations, and the state can’t find them to return it.

These unclaimed property items, which all together total more than $1 billion, were returned to the state by financial institutions, businesses or banking organizations after owners failed to claim their property. The comptroller’s office, as required by state statute, holds them and makes an effort to reunite owners with their lost property.

Peter Franchot, the state comptroller since 2007, has a campaign advertising his efforts to reunite Marylanders with their money. It has featured him wearing a deerstalker as Sherlock Franchot and in a tuxedo as 0033, playing off of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, respectively.

“First thing’s first, I’m going to find your money,” Franchot says in the 0033 video. “And then, I’m going to return it to you.”

Despite these efforts, the list includes more than one million entries: property sitting unclaimed in the government’s possession, available for spending by the state.

Some surplus funds that aren’t returned to the owner are sent to the state’s General Fund, which the General Assembly appropriates annually in connection with the state budget, a spokeswoman from the comptroller’s office said.

Over each of the past four fiscal years, the state received an average of $142.5 million in unclaimed property and was able to return an average of $54.1 million to owners — roughly a third of what financial organizations and businesses sent in to the state.

There are no limits placed on how much or how little the value of each unclaimed asset holding must be, a spokeswoman from the comptroller’s office said, and the office does not track the average amount associated with the holdings. Last year, an unnamed woman claimed more than $1 million in stocks and dividends through the unclaimed property program, according to a news release from the comptroller’s office.

Maryland law currently requires banks and holders of assets to declare property as unclaimed after a period of three years. That timeframe was accelerated following the 2001 recession, as the state looked for ways to increase revenues in the General Fund, said David Juppe, operating budget manager at the Department of Legislative Services.

To increase the money flowing into the General Fund, the state could cut spending, raise taxes or turn to other special funds, he said, like improving tax compliance, boosting state gambling revenue — or increasing funds from abandoned property.

In 2003, the period of time to declare property as unclaimed was accelerated from five years to four and in 2004, it was set at three. Juppe called this timeframe “pretty aggressive” and added that “it doesn’t seem like very long before it’s claimed abandoned.”

Prior to the change, the average annual income from abandoned property was around $30 million to $40 million, Juppe said. In 2003, that amount rose to $72 million, then $103 million in 2004 and $156 million in 2005. Since then, it’s leveled to about $70 million to $80 million in unclaimed assets, he said.

Whereas cutting funds to a program with wide constituent support could alienate voters, changing the timeframe for unclaimed property allowed for increased revenue without much blow back.

“When Program Open Space lost funding, environmentalists were very upset,” Juppe said. “Abandoned property, though, seems pretty innocuous. I can’t believe anyone would be too upset over that.”

Maryland isn’t the only state to rely on revenue from unclaimed property. An Associated Press report found that in total, state governments are holding $41.7 billion in unclaimed property, and cited a growing trend toward using such revenue to patch holes in their budgets.

Delaware, for example, turned unclaimed property into its third-largest source of revenue, bringing in $514 million in 2014, according to the AP report.

Familiar Names

In Maryland, the unclaimed property database includes dozens of entries with easily identifiable addresses that are clearly state organizations.

A database search for the word “university” turns up at least 45 entries including the address 22 South Greene St., spelled and abbreviated in a variety of ways. That address corresponds with the University of Maryland Medical Center.

An additional 30 are listed under P.O. Box 17017, also affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical Center. These items are listed under “University of Maryland Med,” “University of Maryla,” “University of Md” and “University Care” to name a few.

Two items — “University of Maryla” and “University of Md” — are listed under 351 Campus St., the University of Maryland, College Park’s Stamp Student Union.

Those aren’t the only University System of Maryland institutions included on the unclaimed property list. Included in the database are the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

According to the comptroller’s office, though, officials conduct a search for agencies annually to return the money.

“We do a yearly search for other agencies (and) departments affiliated with the state that have money in Unclaimed Property and return it to them,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Dinah Winnick, director of communications for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the university last claimed an item noted in the property listing in October 2012 worth $150.

“Based on our past experience with the unclaimed property listing, UMBC items aren’t noticed very often, they are typically small in value and research sometimes shows items are mistakenly attributed to UMBC,” Winnick wrote in an email following a Public Information Act request from Capital News Service. “Completing the procedure to claim these items does cost significant staff time.”

She said she had no information available on the items under the university’s name currently on the list, and added that for financial reasons, the university completes the process “periodically, typically every few years.”

Famous Marylanders

Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who sits on the Board of Public Works along with Comptroller Peter Franchot, the manager of the unclaimed property list, has an item listed in the database.

Kopp said the holding was from her first home with her husband, dating to the late 1960s, and told Capital News Service that she intended to claim it.

According to the comptroller’s office, unclaimed property list items are run against state databases in an effort to match recipients by Social Security number and addresses filed with state taxes. Additionally, the agency employs third-party companies to prove information and previous addresses.

Individuals with unclaimed property listings are run through an automated matching process, the Comptroller’s Office said. When a match is made, a letter is sent to the owner along with the payment.

But, those property owners — including state officials — might not be successfully matched and informed of the holdings if Social Security numbers are not attached to the name in the database, the Comptroller’s Office said.

“There are no exclusions, so if the State Treasurer was a match, the claim would be paid,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Aside from Kopp, the database also includes listings for U.S. Rep. John Delaney (MD-6th District), former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, current NBA player Carmelo Anthony and the parents of State Sen. Rich Madaleno and actor Ed Norton, a Columbia native.

Even Kirk Bloodsworth, the first American to be exonerated from Death Row by DNA evidence, has two listings in the unclaimed property database, one of which was tied to an address where he told Capital News Service he hadn’t lived in “22 years,” or 1993 — the year he was released from a Maryland prison.

Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich said he was aware that the state “kept a list” for unclaimed assets in its possession, but that he had “no idea” he was on it.

The property listed under his congressional campaign, he told Capital News Service, would have been from roughly 13 years ago, but he believed the address associated with the listing was one of his offices between 10 and 15 years ago — located “right around the corner” from where Ehrlich lived at the time.

Other familiar names on the state database include Edgar Poe (listed with no address, though it’s safe to say it most likely isn’t the famous author); the University of Maryland, College Park’s independent student newspaper The Diamondback; Cal Ripken’s wife, Kelly; a business named Ripken Professional (the famous Orioles family ran a baseball organization by this name); the chairman of Special Olympics and Kennedy cousin Tim Shriver; and that of convicted killer Benjamin Sifrit, who is currently housed in the Roxbury Correctional Institute in Hagerstown.

Sometimes, the names may be the same, but relatives may be the intended recipient, as in the case of the Prince George’s County Executive. There’s a Rushern Baker on the list, but no identifying numerals; he is Baker III.

And, though Donna Edwards, Barbara Mikulski, John Waters and Harry Hughes also appear in the listings, representatives for the congresswoman, senator, screenwriter and former governor told Capital News Service the property listings were not associated with them — and perhaps instead belonged to someone with an identical name.

The Town of Aberdeen, while not a famous Marylander, had unclaimed property in the state’s database, and in response to a public information request from Capital News Service, Monica Correll, the city clerk, shared that the finance department was in the process of claiming the item.

In an email from the Comptroller’s Office, the Unclaimed Property Unit wrote that attached to claim number 01582159, under the Town of Aberdeen, was $175 in a check from a private company dating back to 2008.

And, Mary Bohlen, administrative services director for the town of Berlin, Maryland, shared that it was practice for Berlin administrators to review the comptroller’s records “at least annually” to determine whether they had any unclaimed property.

“Typically, we undertake this review at the end of the calendar year,” Bohlen wrote in an email. “As of our last review, no property was indicated to be unclaimed by the Town of Berlin.”

Bohlen said she was unable to share details about the city’s current property listings.

Capital News Service is a student-staffed news wire and broadcast news service operated by the University of Maryland’s Merrill College of Journalism. © 2016 Capital News Service. All Rights Reserved.

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