ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Out of thousands of unclaimed items the state is putting up for auction next Saturday, Gov. Susana Martinez called one the "star of the show".
It's a 7-pound Baker gold bar that's been in the state's possession since 2008.
"Fair market value for this gold bar is more than $113,000," Martinez said at a Thursday news conference.
But Sonya Burke says that same gold bar was a childhood toy for a brief period.
"I lugged it around everywhere," Burked said. "I just remember playing with it, picking it up to see how tough I was because it was heavy."
Burke's story and claim to a six-figure gold bar starts with her grandfather, Russian immigrant Seymour Mann.
"He did not trust banks," said Jennifer Noya, an attorney representing Burke and her siblings. "He actually used this gold bar as a door stop in his Manhattan apartment."
When Mann died of a heart attack in 1989, the family says the gold bar went to his daughter, Albuquerque attorney Lisa Mann, who put it in a safe deposit box at United New Mexico Bank and left it there. A gold bar at United New Mexico Bank is mentioned in Mann's divorce paperwork in the late 1990s.
Lisa Mann died of breast cancer in February, and Noya, in charge of managing Mann's estate, went looking for the gold bar at United New Mexico Bank.
The problem was that United New Mexico Bank is no more, bought out by Norwest in 1994, which in turn merged with Wells Fargo a few years after that.
Noya says the bank couldn't find a record of Mann owning a box, although the key appeared to fit in one of the boxes. Noya says the bank suggested checking for the gold bar with the state's Unclaimed Property Office, which Noya claims she did in April.
An April 9 email from Unclaimed Property supervisor Stephanie Dennis reflects the results of that conversation.
"I was unable to find anything on a safe deposit box," Dennis wrote. "However I am still looking."
"What they did tell me is [Mann] had about $4,000 in other unclaimed property with them," Noya said.
The gold bar appeared to be a lost cause until Noya spotted it in KRQE News 13's report Thursday. Noya says she called Unclaimed Property Friday but was met with a less-than-friendly response.
"They told me, 'Well, you can just bid for the bar at the auction,' which I thought was horrifying," Noya said.
New Mexico Taxation and Revenue spokesperson S.U. Mahesh told News 13 he was unaware if that comment was made but emphasized that anyone, including the Burkes, can still file a claim for the gold bar or any of the other unclaimed items up for auction. Mahesh added no formal claim has been made for the gold bar.
If a claim proves ownership, the items will be returned. However, if a proper claim isn't made before the auction, then the item will be sold and gone for good. After that point, if a verified claim is made the state will give the prior owner the money the item sold for less auction fees.
Burke says she doesn't want the gold bar for the money.
"It's certainly not about the actual monetary value," Burke said. "It's about the fact that this is something that belongs to my family."
Thousands of unclaimed items from safe deposit boxes around the state are up for auction Saturday July 27 at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
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