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Millions in city sheriff's accounts intended for property owners

Nearly $56 million dollars surfaced in the lengthy investigation of 13 bank accounts overseen by the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office. Much of the money was accumulated over the last dozen years and was labeled as unclaimed proceeds from sheriff-imposed real estate sales.

The city department has been tabulating the money and records of property buyers and sellers since the first of the year, when an acting sheriff took over the responsibility for the accounts. Forty million dollars will be transferred to state and city treasuries for distribution to rightful owners.

Two-thirds of the cash found came from Sheriff's Office property sales, money that exceeded the real estate's sales prices, taxes and utility payments. More than $17 million found in the accounts was attributed to sheriff sales that took place last year.

Just over $7 million in unclaimed funds were discovered from sheriff sale transactions between 2006 and 2009. Nearly $20 million remained in accounts for property sales between 1999 and 2005.

Accountants say the city and state should be able to identify many of the former homeowners through the names and addresses listed in the recorded property transactions, although some records were untraceable. Nearly $8 million was found connected to sales between 1999 and 2001 that contained no transaction records. The money will be deemed unclaimed and eventually become state property, unless former property owners make a valid claim for the cash.

Federal, state and local officials are cooperating in the accounting investigation. With the announcement of the found millions, the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office was careful to avoid mentioning any reasons why the money went undisturbed in city accounts for so long. The details of the ongoing investigation are likely to remain of interest to both buyers and sellers.

Source: philly.com, "Philadelphia Sheriff's Office transfers about $40 million to city and state," Bob Warner, Oct. 14, 2011

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