WASHINGTON (CN) — Taking the U.S. government to court, Florida’s chief financial officer says the Treasury Department has refused to settle up on $1 billion in unclaimed mature savings bonds owed to residents of the Sunshine State.
As head of the Florida Department of Financial Services, Jeff Atwater claims in the Nov. 9 complaint that the Treasury has made no effort to locate the owners of more than $19 billion worth of U.S. savings bonds dating back to the 1930s.
Of these bonds, “many of which reached final maturity and ceased earning interest decades ago,” Atwater says about 5 percent were bought by Florida residents.
“Approximately $1 billion of that amount corresponds to purchasers of unclaimed, matured savings bonds that were originally registered to individuals with last known addresses in the state of Florida,” Atwater told the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Atwater has championed the cause of returning unclaimed property to its rightful owners. In a recent press release about a record-breaking month of returns, the CFO says he has already processed $1.4 billion in property to Florida residents.
“This issue … represents yet another way we’re working to make Florida’s unclaimed property program the most robust in the nation,” Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr said in an email.
Atwater says Florida has taken valid title to three categories of U.S. savings bonds, with actual possession of bonds worth about $598,000.
Another $283,000 worth of bonds “were delivered to the CFO and then sent to the United States Treasury,” the complaint states.
Atwater says the remaining absent bonds were “registered to persons with last known addresses in the state of Florida which have been lost, stolen, destroyed, or otherwise abandoned, and are not in the CFO’s possession.”
The complaint notes that Florida is one of 18 states to adopt “specific title-based escheat laws with respect to U.S. savings bonds.” (Emphasis in original.)
Florida passed the law in question just last year, allowing the state to take ownership of unclaimed savings bonds, with a provision that lets the rightful owners claim the property through the department. Until the money is returned, Florida deposits the money from unclaimed property into the state’s education fund.
With the Treasury having made little to no effort to notify owners about the maturity of their bonds, nor to locate missing owners, Atwater says the 2015 law empowers him “to take steps to return the proceeds of redeemed savings bonds to the bonds’ original owners who may be found.”
The U.S. Treasury Department has not returned a request for comment.
J. Brett Milbourn, with Walters Bender Strohbehn & Vaughn of Kansas City, Mo., represents Florida in the case.