February 18, 2006
What do you do if you find a bag of cash?
Criminal proceeds can be seized
Quebec money fate unknown
What would you do if you were renovating your newly purchased home, and found a
bag containing $100,000 in $20 bills hidden above a ceiling panel in the
Do you keep it and say nothing, turn it over to the police, or quietly
sell the house and take the cash with you?
That was the problem faced last month by a couple in Trois-Rivieres,
They purchased the house at 2620 Andr St. in June from a bank that had
repossessed it when the mortgage went into default.
The former owner of the house was Marc-Andr Hinse, the alleged head of
the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in Trois-Rivieres. Local police have been
looking for Hinse since May 2004, when they carried out raids on members of the
At the time, the police executed a search warrant on the house, but
missed the plastic bag containing the money. After the police were finished, the
bank took over and eventually sold the place.
After I heard about the discovery in Trois-Rivieres, I began to wonder
who was entitled to the bathroom bounty. I hunted down a copy of Principles
of Property Law, a popular text for first-year law students written by
professor Bruce Ziff of the University of Alberta.
An entire chapter about lost objects begins with the comment, "The law of
finding is not an area of pressing practical concern."
The statement, of course, is quite true unless you happen to find a bag
full of money hidden in your house, and you don't know or don't want to know
who it belongs to.
That's what happened to a Toronto lawyer back in 1988 while his
contractors were renovating an 1880s Victorian house he had purchased. When
nearly $50,000 came raining down on the contractors from the ceiling, everybody
wanted the money the owner, the daughter of the former owner, and of course,
Sadly, the outcome remains a mystery, as the parties signed a
non-disclosure agreement when the case was settled.
Although Quebec laws may differ, the law in Ontario is "finders keepers."
In other words, the finder of an item gets good title to it against the
whole world except for the rightful owner. But the rule gets muddied when the
article has been abandoned, or is the proceeds of crime.
If there is proof that the bathroom bounty came from criminal activity,
it can be seized.
Was the Trois-Rivieres money abandoned by whoever put it in the ceiling?
Can anyone prove it is the proceeds of crime?
What is the risk that an imposing gentleman in leather attire and driving
a large two-wheeled vehicle would knock on the door one day and politely request
the return of his missing property?
Meantime, the $100,000 has been turned over to the local police and its
fate is awaiting a determination by the Quebec court.
The judge hearing the case will no doubt recall the 1969 British case of
Moffat v. Kazana.
In that case, Kazana purchased a house in 1961 and three years later
workers dislodged a biscuit tin containing almost 2,000 from the chimney.
Kazana turned the money over to the police, who eventually gave it back to him.
Then the former owners, a couple named Russell, sued Kazana claiming
ownership of the loot.
The court awarded the money and the tin to the Russells who were the
"true owners," concluding that they simply forgot about it but never abandoned
the intent to own it.
Another interesting finder's case occurred in 1949 when a 12-year old boy
playing with his friends crawled under a pool-room in Fort Frances and
discovered about $1,500 in a tin resting on the support beams of the building.
At the time, $1,500 was a huge sum of money.
The police seized the cash but the Ontario High Court eventually awarded
it to the youngster when no one came forward to claim it.
If you owned 2620 Andr St. in Trois-Rivieres, and discovered $100,000 in
the ceiling of your bathroom, what would you do with the money?
I'd love to hear from you by fax or email. I'll report the results of the
case when and more importantly, if they become available.
Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached by email
at email@example.com, phone 416-364-9366 or fax
416-364-3818. Visit the column archives at
Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818.
Visit the Toronto Star column archives at http://www.aaron.ca/columns for articles on this and other topics or his main webpage at www.aaron.ca.