If you’ve cleaned up in the stock market recently, you probably aren’t interested in free money, so you can just turn the page. On the other hand, if, like me, you’ve lost your 401(k), the kids’ college money and that stash you’d been hiding in the freezer to take to Coushatta, then read on. We are discussing, as we do this time of year, the fact that the State of Texas is sitting on a huge amount of money which belongs to us and, in one of those odd twists, the government is trying to return the funds, but we won’t take it. How much? About $136 million owed to 130,000 people, companies and poodles. This amount is down a bunch from last year, when the state had $297 million unclaimed and only $123 million was taken. That big winner was Jim Bray, Jr. in Prosper, Texas, with $618,000. But each year, since a lot of these lost fortunes remain unclaimed, the total grows. It now equals almost $2 billion. Yes, you read correctly. In Austin, the state is sitting on almost $2 billion, and no one will take it. Here’s a quick look at some of the top dollars on this year’s list from selected cities: Dallas-Energy Production Corporation, $477,853.07 Blessing-B.B. Rhodes, $147,183.08 Fort Worth-Randa S. Jordan, $100,000.00 Austin-J.M. Falkner, $126,647.78 Brenham-Susan Harris, $30,000.00 Clute-Andrew D. Solis Jr., $50,000 Kerrville-Henry O. Easterling, $48,737.64. A bit of background for you newcomers to our treasure hunt: Texas requires that banks, stock brokerage companies and other money dumps such as unclaimed ransoms hidden in tree trunks – any old accounts that nobody seems to want – must seek the true owners. If the search fails, then the amount, name of person or company and last known town, must be reported to the comptroller. This also includes stuff in dusty safety deposit boxes, which we shall get to in a moment. Then each year about this time we have the Free Money Spree in which the State Comptroller’s annual Unclaimed Property List is released both in a special section in 30 of the state’s largest newspapers and online at: www.ClaimItTexas.org (a new Web address this year whose name says it all), or call toll free 800-654-3463 to speak to a customer service representative. That overall amount of unclaimed property (and “property” can mean anything from cold, hard cash to a bag of diamonds found in a safe in Sonora) held by the state of nearly $2 billion, includes these amounts. Just run your eyes over this list and think of all the Fannie Mae stock you could buy: 229,819 properties worth $1,000 or more 12,019 properties worth $10,000 or more 3,262 properties worth $25,000 or more 366 properties worth $100,000 or more. In the last five years, the comptroller has paid seven claims for $1 million or more. The biggest winner ever was in 1996: Winston D. Johnson in Dallas who got $4.2 million. Earlier we mentioned some yet unclaimed heirs from around the state, but here are more top potential winners in Texas: Russel L. Jacobe, Jr., Houston - $412,596. Virginia Miller, Dallas - $396,102.54 Jesus Velasquez, San Antonio - $220,258.04 Cesar A. Vela, Houston - $218,070.52 Edward E. Hartline, Houston - $196,745.85. Once I discovered that I had some money awaiting me. It’s a long story what with blackmail, unmarked bills and a high-speed chase, but in the end I got, no kidding, $1,200. That prize covered a full tank of Shell premium. Last year, I checked the list and found that my late, lamented mother had 99 cents due her. The comptroller keeps every dime until the rightful owner or heir is found. The names in the newspaper section are only those due $250 or more. It used to be $100 but the list got too long and that section would have weighed 10 pounds, so they raised the bar to $250. But check the online list for all amounts. You could be due $249. Don’t forget to check for your neighbors’ names. You may have rich neighbors. Better yet, your neighbors may have a rich neighbor. There are almost 23,000 Houstonians due $29 million but, counting past unclaimed cash or gold doubloons, there is more than $220 million gathering dust. It ain’t just the big cities. There are 151 people in Del Rio who have $117,180 in the state’s safe. That brings that town’s total to $984,475. We’ve got 290 residents in Victoria who are owed more than $410,000. Counting those who refused to collect their back winnings, Victoria’s secret is $2.4 million. As for the stuff in forgotten safety deposit boxes, for several years now the comptroller’s office has had a continuous weekly auction on eBay to sell Grandma’s silverware and Uncle Oscar’s coin collection, if the owners’ names have been published and they haven’t claimed their property. If the owner ever shows up, he or she receives the proceeds of the eBay auction. Finally, the reason we must act quickly is that next spring the Texas Legislature meets again and as usual, our lawmakers will start sniffing around, looking for more money. It is only a matter of time until one of them proposes, “Hey, right down the street the state is sitting on almost $2 billion with no takers. So my idea is….” We must move fast. Ashby is unclaimed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..