LAWRENCE — City firefighters first spotted the abandoned safe in a vacant lot in November 2008. Then, when $178,496 cash was found inside, several people, including a tow truck driver and relatives of former shoe store owner Sally Daher filed claims for the cash.
Now, more than three years later, the state has been awarded the $178,496 to cover medical costs for Daher, who spent five years in a skilled nursing facility prior to her 2001 death.
Essex County Superior Court judge Robert Cornetta handed down a decision recently saying the cash was found in a safe owned by Daher Shoe, and owner Sally Daher. And because she was the safe's owner, the "net amount" inside the safe belongs to the state's Division of Medical Assistance, for medical bills Daher incurred prior to her death 10 years ago.
State law allows for health care costs to be recouped from a person's probate estate.
After the safe was found and linked to Daher, the state's Estate Recovery Unit filed a claim for the cash. A probate estate includes property a person possesses at the time of death and property that descends to their heirs, according to information posted on the estate recovery unit's web site.
Ken Daher, one of Sally Daher's surviving children, said if the state was owed any money, the family would not fight payment.
"I am ecstastic. This the best Christmas present I could get," said Daher, after learning about Cornetta's decision on the safe money. "My mother wouldn't have wanted money owed or a hand out in a million years...My mother did not live like that," he said.
Cornetta's decision now appears to be the final chapter in a tale of long-hidden treasure found.
The story starts with firefighters, who out on routine inspection, spotted the safe dumped in the vacant lot on Cross Street. They called police and later detectives asked them to bust open the 2,000-pound safe.
Firefighters spent an hour using a metal cutting torch, a jack hammer and an air hammer, to pry the safe open. Inside they found $178,496 in cash packed in plastic Daher's shopping bags, an old white Nike T-shirt and blue Arlington Trust bank envelopes. The newest of the bills was printed in 1982.
Detectives then traced the safe to Ramez Yousses, a shoe repairman who rented Sally Daher's old shoe store at 85-89 Swan St. in Methuen. Yousses, who'd been burglarized, said he felt the safe was a liability in the store and he wanted to get rid of it.
So Yousses hired Manuel Ovalles, a Lawrence tow truck driver and paid him $200 to haul the safe away. He hoped to cash in the safe at a local junkyard, but when they wouldn't take it, Ovalles dumped the safe into a vacant lot next to his home on 70-72 Cross St. in Lawrence.
According to police reports, the Daher family was unaware the money or anything else was left in the safe, which was in the shoe store for 40 years. Ken Daher, who owned the shoe store building, told police his mother must have had the safe years ago.
Widowed in the 1960s, Sally Daher sold factory seconds and overstock from Majestic Shoe Co. to support her four children: Charles, John, Ken, and her daughter Joyce Daher Belko, who is now deceased.
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