Tipping the scales at about seven pounds, the gold bar was large enough to be used as a doorstop in the Manhattan apartment of Sonya Burke’s maternal grandfather, Burke, a 28-year-old Albuquerque lawyer, said in a phone interview Tuesday.
When her grandfather died in 1989, Burke’s mother, Albuquerque attorney Lisa Mann, inherited it and was holding onto it to pass along to Burke and her two older brothers, Burke said.
Mann had stored the gold bar in a safe-deposit box at what was then United New Mexico Bank. Then, in February, she died after a 16-month battle with breast cancer.
The bank had long ago been sold to Wells Fargo Bank, and the gold bar’s location was unknown. The safe-deposit box that held it could have been emptied due to inactivity, said Jennifer A. Noya, the lawyer for Mann’s estate.
“At various times, the bank will clear out boxes that appear to be abandoned,” she said, often when people do not pay for them, when records have been lost, or when no one has gone to the safety deposit box for a long time.
When that happens, the property can go to the unclaimed property division of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, which can sell items at auction.
After Mann died, Noya began the process of trying to locate her client’s assets to split them up among Mann’s three children, already aware that the gold bar was among them.
“She had told me, she told her paralegal, and her secretary. She told all of us her key (to the safe-deposit box) was in her desk drawer.”
Then last week, Noya saw a local TV news broadcast which reported that a gold bar was among the items up for the state’s auction.
“I realized this could be, and likely was, the gold bar of Miss Mann’s,” Noya said. “I called the state and asked that it be pulled.” In making her request, she supplied affidavits from family members, an investment adviser and herself, along with a copy of the safe-deposit box key, she said.
According to Noya, the state on Monday pulled the gold bar from auction, a move that both she and Burke said was a just decision.
“We are very pleased that the state has done the right thing by removing it from auction,” Noya said.
Added Burke: “The push-back from the state is because these auctions take a long time to organize. I can see how they would be hesitant to pull a big-ticket item, so I was very grateful.”