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Unclaimed Money: IRS Has $1B for Late 2008 Filers

The IRS said the deadline for those who want to file and collect their 2008 refunds is April 17, 2012.

The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a refund for 2008 that their checks might be held if they didn't file tax returns for 2009 and 2010. The 2008 refund would be applied to any amounts still owed, and to unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans. There is no penalty for filing a late return that qualifies for a refund.

The law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window to claim a refund, and after that the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury. The IRS said some people may not have filed because they had too little income to require filing a tax return, even though taxes were withheld from their wages.

The IRS website lists the refund potential and refund median amounts state by state for 2008. Wyoming taxpayers, who did not file, for example, have the highest median potential refund, of $773. Those in Oregon have the lowest, at $527 per person.

Here are the IRS' tips to help you file that late federal tax return for 2008:

1. Current and previous year tax forms and instructions are available on the Forms and Publications page of, or by calling toll-free 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

2. The IRS advises taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for 2008, 2009 or 2010 to request copies from their employer, bank or other payer.

3. If these efforts prove unsuccessful, taxpayers can get a free transcript showing information from these year-end documents by ordering it on, filing Form 4506-T, or by calling 800-908-9946.

4. The IRS offers free tax help through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly, or TCE, programs for low- and moderate-income taxpayers, senior citizens, people with disabilities and non-English-language speakers. The general rule of thumb is individuals can't make more than $50,000 a year.

5. Make sure your return is mailed and postmarked by April 17, 2012, and has the correct address.

In November, the IRS said it was searching for almost 100,000 taxpayers to deliver $153.3 million in unclaimed tax refund checks because of mailing address errors.

Timothy Flacke, executive director of the nonprofit D2D Fund, which supports the Tax Time Savings Bond Campaign, said it was likely a large number of the 99,123 taxpayers who are missing their tax refunds are more financially vulnerable than others. They're either "unbanked," meaning they don't have a bank account, or "underbanked," meaning they rely on alternative financial institutions, such as check cashing services, for their banking needs.

Originally published on

Brookfield lawyer pleads guilty to defrauding county of unclaimed funds

A Brookfield lawyer who was arrested at Holy Hill after missing his first scheduled plea hearing in a massive fraud case pleaded guilty Wednesday.

Thomas Bielinski, 52, was charged in August with a scheme stretching back years in which he purported to represent the rightful owners of unclaimed funds kept by the Milwaukee County clerk of circuit court's office. He was charged with theft by fraud of more than $542,000.

Bielinski has been jailed on $1 million bail since his arrest in December, after he failed to appear in court for a scheduled plea hearing that month.

On Wednesday, he quietly answered Milwaukee County Circuit Judge J.D. Watts' questions about knowingly and willingly giving up his right to a trial, and admitted to all seven elements of the charged offense, theft by fraud, greater than $10,000. For the purpose of the hearing, Bielinski admitted to facts involving a single case in which he obtained $10,150.

Bielinski, wearing orange jail clothing, said little else. He did acknowledge that, for now, he remains a licensed attorney in Wisconsin. His attorney, Michael F. Hart, said after the hearing that Bielinski may voluntarily give up his bar membership now that he's convicted of a felony.

The state will seek restitution for the full $540,000 it says Bielinski stole over the five-year course of the scheme.

He faces up to five years in prison at his sentencing April 4.

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Latest unclaimed property list contains large sums

The state's most-recent unclaimed property list for Surry County, made available by Rep. Sarah Stevens, contains amounts ranging from $24,371 to $1.15 owed to thousands of local citizens, businesses and organizations.

And thanks to the continuation of a pilot project launched in 2011, a county government office is working to reunite that cash with rightful owners who aren't even aware it exists.

"We've probably assisted with the filing of claims for about $150,000," Surry Finance Officer Betty Taylor said Wednesday of the program that began last February.

Unclaimed property can consist of bank accounts, wages, utility deposits, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, bonds and contents of safe deposit boxes that have been abandoned. For one reason or another, no transactions or contacts have been made with the rightful owners of those proceeds, either because they have moved or for a variety of other reasons.

Financial institutions, insurance companies, public agencies and businesses are legally required to turn over unclaimed property to the state if there has been no contact with the owners for a certain time. While they are held, interest earned on those assets is used to provide grants and low-interest loans to worthy students in need.

The list is administered by the N.C. Department of the State Treasurer.

"They update it periodically," said Stevens, a member of the N.C. General Assembly who lives in Mount Airy. Her office has assisted in getting cash to those listed, along with the program operated by volunteers at the county finance office.

"We have put lots of money in lots of people's hands," Stevens added.

A Westfield man owed $24,371 is at the top of the latest unclaimed property list compiled by Stevens, which also includes seven other individuals, a Mount Airy trucking company and an automotive dealership in the city among the top 10 in terms of amounts. The report shows sums due them of at least $2,773 each.

County Assistance

Surry is 'the only county that I know of' that has a program specifically designed to help get the unclaimed assets to their owners, said Taylor, the finance officer.

The county board of commissioners saw the need for the free service and took steps to make it happen, Taylor said. 'The board allowed us to do this as a pilot project and they've allowed us to continue,' she said, adding that the commissioners deserve much credit for this.

Since the unclaimed property function is not part of the official mission of the county finance office, it relies on volunteers to help citizens secure cash that is owed them.

Six people are involved now, Taylor said Wednesday. 'We have room for more volunteers.'

The volunteers try to contact people on the list through various means. 'Sometimes it's a matter of looking them up in the phone book' and making one call, Taylor said. 'And sometimes it might take a month to find them.'

Exhaustive searches can be involved which require much 'Googling,' the finance officer said of one online mechanism used. 'Sometimes it takes a lot of Internet research.'

Most of the volunteers consider the task a challenge and achieve a certain satisfaction in tracking recipients down, Taylor said. 'They've chased people all over the country.'

Some who are contacted are skeptical. 'They think it's a scam,' Taylor said.

Pointing out that there are entities which get unclaimed money into the hands of recipients for a fee, she said the county service 'is free and we don't charge.'

Tracking down those owed money is just part of the process. A would-be recipient then must submit appropriate paperwork to get the cash.

"The volunteers will actually help them file those claims,' the finance officer said. 'It is sometimes overwhelming.' In some instances, including when people have moved, proof must be provided to the state " such as documentation that they once resided at a previous address ' before the treasurer's office will release the money.

"We've notified a lot of people that have filed their own claims," Taylor said. While the county volunteers have been directly responsible for some $150,000 being claimed, the number is in the $300,000 range counting all those they have contacted to inform them that the funds exist.

Documenting rightful ownership can be tricky, with finding proof of old addresses the most-difficult part, Taylor said. Complications also sometimes arise if a deceased person is involved and the money is to go to that person's estate, which requires working through its executor or administrator and filing materials such as death certificates.

And those who are getting money shouldn't expect to receive it right away. 'It takes about 90 days,' Taylor said of the process.

In some cases in which relatively small sums are owed, the owners don't consider it worth the time and trouble to claim the money.

But others have been extremely grateful to get unexpected funds just in time to make a rent or car payment, Taylor said. 'It's certainly putting money in people's pockets.'

Along with assistance in filing claims, anyone wanting to know if they have unclaimed money can call 401-8211, a special number set up for the pilot project. If no volunteers are working, a caller can leave a message and someone will respond soon, Taylor said.

The public also can visit the website, click on the Unclaimed Property link and type in a name to determine if money is owed.

Meanwhile, having additional volunteers would enable the local service to be offered at more times. Taylor is unsure of the total hours now devoted by volunteers each week, since some work on their home computers and then make calls from the county office.

Along with minimal computer skills, a desire to assist others is helpful.

"They can choose their hours," Taylor said.

Read more: Mount Airy News - Latest unclaimed property list contains large sums

Unclaimed property sales double

The monthly auction from the State Treasurer's Office breaks sales record

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller announced recently that sales from his monthly eBay Auction of unclaimed property brought in $220,640.07 in 2011. The auction in 2010 brought $110,409.43 into the unclaimed property account.

"The price of gold definitely helped push sales up higher this year," Schuller said. "But, we also expanded the auction to include more items and did a lot more in terms of promoting it to new customers via social media."

The items sold come from abandoned safe deposit boxes that banks turn over to the State Treasury after owners fail to pay rent for five years.

Money made in auctions return to the unclaimed property account. Cash can then be claimed by the owner or rightful heir.

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