Is unclaimed money waiting for you? Find out here

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
With the help of Arizona's Family, Cathy Exiga recently received a $5,000 check for restitution she was owed from a 2004 wreck. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) With the help of Arizona's Family, Cathy Exiga recently received a $5,000 check for restitution she was owed from a 2004 wreck. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Exiga’s $5,000 check demonstrates a frustrating reality for victim advocates. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Exiga’s $5,000 check demonstrates a frustrating reality for victim advocates. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

"I can't even believe it. Feels like a dream almost," said Cathy Exiga with a smile and a shrug, shooting a quick glance at the check for $5,000 propped on her kitchen counter.

The Valley grandmother said she had largely given up hope of ever receiving the money she was owed as restitution from the man who upended her life. After all, the drunk driver crashed into her home nearly 14 years ago.

Exiga’s $5,000 check demonstrates a frustrating reality for victim advocates. Maricopa County Superior Court is holding about $3 million in unclaimed restitution – money that belongs to thousands of crime victims but can’t be distributed because of outdated addresses or other clerical roadblocks.

The Arizona Department of Revenue has more than $1 billion in unclaimed property just waiting for the rightful owner to come forward.

But while ADOR has a fairly robust website to search for unclaimed property, the Superior Court’s online database became defunct in 2015, making unclaimed restitution like Exiga’s difficult to find without the help of an investigative reporter.

In conjunction with this report, Arizona’s Family is publishing a searchable database with information on unclaimed restitution cases from 2014 through 2017

[LOOK FOR: Unclaimed restitution money]

“It sounded like an earthquake”

On Sept. 5, 2004, a drunk driver crashed into Exiga’s home, damaging the house, two of her vehicles and her marriage in the process.

“The drunk driver was airborne and landed right into our home and crashed into the cars and into the carport,” Exiga said. “It sounded like an earthquake.”

Court records show the driver, Sergio Hurtado Loza, was in the country illegally and jumped bail. Exiga thought her chances of collecting the court-ordered restitution disappeared along with him.

Bills started piling up. Exiga said her insurance wouldn’t cover one of the vehicles, so she had to take the bus to work. Amid the mounting stress, her husband left. Then she started falling behind on her mortgage payments.

“It was very stressful going through everything,” she said. “[The driver] got away with doing a lot of harm.”

Unbeknownst to Exiga, police arrested Loza again in November 2011 when he was a passenger in a speeding car. He took a plea agreement, paid his court-ordered restitution, and was released from probation in 2013 pending deportation proceedings.

“Years pass. I would try to go online to see if I could find anything [on the restitution]. Never could. And then you emailed my son,” Exiga said.

Last year, I submitted a public records request to Maricopa County Superior Court for its most recent data on unclaimed restitution. The topic of unclaimed restitution had been discussed at a recent journalism convention I attended.

I organized the data by amount and then set about trying to reach out to victims owed the most restitution. Using public records searches, online court information and social media, I reached out to as many victims as I could.

I spent a full day trying to call, email, and message victims. In the end, only one person ever responded, underscoring the difficulty in disbursing the unclaimed funds.

I would try to go online to see if I could find anything [on the restitution]. Never could. And then you emailed my son.

In the case of Exiga, who uses a different last name on social media, I was able to cross-reference an email address and information from a LinkedIn page to track down her Facebook page. Then I simply messaged her and her son, David, and waited.

When the check arrived in the mail last month, Exiga said it was “like I won the lottery or something.”

More than $1 billion in unclaimed property statewide

The Superior Court holds unclaimed restitution for three years while attempting to contact victims and distribute the funds.

"From July 2015 to the present, victims located through our victim locate program have cashed $1.1M in formerly unclaimed restitution," court spokesman Aaron Nash said. 

Of the $3 million currently held by the court, a little less than half is owed to individuals. The rest is owed to businesses.

After three years, the court transfers the money to the Arizona Department of Revenue, where owners have 35 years to claim their money from the state.

Last year, the court transferred $692,973 in unclaimed restitution to ADOR. In 2016, it transferred $807,609. In 2015, it transferred $721,440, according to court records.

In fiscal year 2017, ADOR paid out $57 million to claimants ranging from less than $1 to more than $2 million in one claim, said spokesman Ed Greenberg.

“Often, property becomes unclaimed because the company that holds the funds has an outdated address for its customer or former employee, and in some cases, a person passes away with no family members aware of the assets,” Greenberg said.

ADOR has about 7 million separate unclaimed property accounts, consisting of things like old bank accounts, uncashed payroll checks, tax refunds, credit balances, rebates and returned deposits, as well as items left in abandoned safe deposit boxes for years, according to Greenberg. In all, the state is holding more than $1 billion in unclaimed property, he said.

“The Department of Revenue attempts to track down owners of unclaimed property through various ways, including sending out tens of thousands of letters and notices every year to people who have unclaimed assets they are entitled to, placing advertisements in local media in the state and working with other states to research and locate unclaimed property owners,” Greenberg said.

Owners must provide documentation showing their right to claim the property. For more information and to search the ADOR database, go to http://www.azunclaimed.gov.

A person can also do a free national search for unclaimed money through missingmoney.com.

Click here to search the Superior Court data I compiled.


Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

Click to learn more about Derek.

Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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