CLEVELAND – A contractor who found $182,000 in Depression-era currency hidden in a bathroom wall has ended up with only a few thousand dollars, but he feels some vindication.
The windfall discovery amounted to little more than grief for contractor Bob Kitts, who couldn't agree on how to split the money with homeowner Amanda Reece.
It didn't help Reece much, either. She testified in a deposition that she was considering bankruptcy and that a bank recently foreclosed on one of her properties.
And 21 descendants of Patrick Dunne — the wealthy businessman who stashed the money that was minted in a time of bank collapses and joblessness — will each get a mere fraction of the find.
"If these two individuals had sat down and resolved their disputes and divided the money, the heirs would have had no knowledge of it," said attorney Gid Marcinkevicius, who represents the Dunne estate. "Because they were not able to sit down and divide it in a rational way, they both lost."
Kitts was tearing the bathroom walls out of an 83-year-old home near Lake Erie in 2006 when he discovered two green metal lockboxes suspended inside a wall below the medicine chest, hanging from a wire. Inside were white envelopes with the return address for "P. Dunne News Agency."
"I ripped the corner off of one," Kitts said during a deposition in a lawsuit filed by Dunne's estate. "I saw a 50 and got a little dizzy."
He called Reece, a former high school classmate who had hired him for a remodeling project.
They counted the cash and posed for photographs, both grinning like lottery jackpot winners.
But how to share? She offered 10 percent. He wanted 40 percent. From there things went sour.
A month after The Plain Dealer reported on the case in December 2007, Dunne's estate got involved, suing for the right to the money.
By then there was little left to claim.
Reece testified in a deposition that she spent about $14,000 on a trip to Hawaii and had sold some of the rare late 1920s bills. She said about $60,000 was stolen from a shoe box in her closet but testified that she never reported the theft to police.
Kitts said Reece accused him of stealing the money and began leaving him threatening phone messages. Marcinkevicius doesn't believe the money was stolen but said he couldn't prove otherwise.
Reece's phone number has been disconnected, and her attorney Robert Lazzaro did not return a call seeking comment. There were no court records showing that Reece had filed for bankruptcy.
Kitts said he lost a lot of business because media reports on the case portrayed him as greedy, but he feels vindicated by the court's decision to give him a share.
"I was not the bad guy that everybody made me out to be," Kitts said. "I didn't do anything wrong."
He's often asked why he didn't keep his mouth shut and pocket the money. He says he wasn't raised that way.
"It was a neat experience, something that won't happen again," Kitts said. "In that regard, it was pretty fascinating; seeing that amount of money in front of you was breathtaking. In that regard, I don't regret it.
"The threats and all — that's the part that makes you wish it never happened."