SANTA FE – They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The old saying apparently applies to women, too. Just ask Marlene Arsola of Santa Fe, who parlayed her sister’s $1 investment in an old ammo box into a $5,500 payout.
“And you know what? I got the check on 12-12-12,” she said. “It was a great surprise, especially on that lucky day.”
Luck seems to follow Arsola. She once won $10,000 after she grudgingly bought a $100 raffle ticket for a YAFL fundraiser from her brother. Last week, she supplemented her Christmas shopping budget by winning $500 with a New Mexico Lottery Scratcher.
But the circumstances surrounding her latest windfall may be the longest odds of all.
“Some guy at the bank asked if he could rub up against me,” she said with a laugh.
Arsola guessed it was about eight years ago that she took a trip down to Belen to visit her sister. While there, the two stopped at an auction at a storage facility in Los Chavez and came across what was mostly Army supplies.
“There were about 25 of these ammo boxes, and we thought they would be good to store tools in so they can’t get wet,” Arsola said.
So her sister, Marie Baca, bought two of the metal boxes – roughly 4 inches wide, a foot long and 10 inches deep – for a dollar apiece. Arsola kept one, which was empty, and Baca kept the other.
“We went home and she opened hers and there was a paper bag in it. Inside was a bunch of mutilated money and some dirt,” Arsola said. “I thought it was stolen money from a bank or drug money. Thinking about it, I think it was probably a little old man who maybe buried it and then died. The family probably didn’t even know there was money in there.”
Wherever it came from, the sisters speculate that mice got into it and shredded the currency. Some of the bills were still partially intact. Baca first took those to the police to see if they could be tracked. The police ran the serial numbers on the bills and determined the money wasn’t stolen or counterfeit, so they returned it to her. She then took it to the bank and exchanged it for something she could spend.
“I think I got four or five hundred dollars for it,” Baca said.
The smaller shreds of the newfound treasure were too cumbersome to piece together. She held on to them for several more years.
“I got so tired of it, I gave it to my sister and said, ‘You like doing puzzles, take it home and put them together. Maybe you can get something out of it,’ ” Baca said.
“I just laughed and put it in the closet,” Arsola said. “Everyone who came over, I asked what I should do with it.”
Finally, Arsola took what was left to her bank and asked the employees there for suggestions. They told her she might try contacting the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
“So I went to their website and there was information on what to do with mutilated money. I sent it in and got a letter back that said they got it, but it might take them 18 months to two years to investigate,” Arsola said.
That was two years ago.
“About a month ago I was thinking about it again and called them,” she said. “I told them I wanted to know what happened to my money. I wasn’t very nice.”
Then early Thursday morning Arsola went to pick up her mail. Among the envelopes was one from the U.S. Treasury.
“I thought, ‘Oh, God, I’m going to get audited,’ but I looked inside and there was a check for $5,500. I couldn’t believe it. I checked to see if (the check) had a water mark,” she said.
“I’m just useless today,” said a still-excited Arsola, who is office coordinator for the Journal’s distribution center in Santa Fe.
Arsola said she hasn’t made up her mind what she’ll do with the money.
“My car needs tires,” she began. “I don’t know. A lot of things have happened. It’s been a really bad year. My mother-in-law broke her hip and is now living with us.”
Since Baca has already cashed in her share, she said she has no regrets about turning over what was left of the money to her little sister.
“Absolutely not,” Baca said. “My sister has been there for me many, many times in my life when I needed her, I don’t regret it at all. I’m sure she’ll put it to good use. It’s a wonderful time of year for this to happen to her.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal