There are a number of shows that have brought attention to the world of abandoned storage unit auctions. AE had Storage Wars which showed the excitement of each purchase. It wasn’t so much the characters that made the show a hit, it was the idea of opening a piece of history. Not every purchase was a good buy, but the thrill of just maybe finding a piece of history in one of the storage containers kept the people bidding. Some were a big hit, others, a total miss. For this story, the purchase was a total shock. Spending just $500 on the storage container changed his life. The story is nothing short of amazing.
The Adrenaline of Bidding
It could be argued that bidding on storage units or containers is akin to gambling. While many make it their business and make a good living off the bidding, more often than not there is the same sense of endorphins in the bidding and opening of a container as there is in pulling the arm on a slot machine.
The Real Work
While the bid that brings him to the story is not typical, it does end him face to face with the police. Before getting to that though, it should be said that this is no easy job. After purchasing a unit, cleaning, sorting and valuing items can take a great deal of effort and often for no pay. But, again, the thrill is getting that big pay off.
Walking the Line
With bidding, you never know what you are going to get. You can take a glance into the container, but the valuables are always covered or hidden in boxes or inside of other furniture. To add to that, the bidder also has to worry about winning the bid, keeping a budget for future bids, and hoping that at least one of the wins pays off. This is all done against other bidders.
Just Another Day Out
Dan Dotson and his wife, Laura, star on Storage Wars and were the ones that broke this story first. While out for a normal episode of the show, a woman came up to him to tell him that her husband had won a unit for $500 and found a safe inside. What was inside was the craziest thing to happen on the show yet.
The Initial Bidding War
While the names of the couple that won the unit have not been released, it seemed to be just another day of bidding. Normal bidding started at $100 which is a bit higher than normal, but the way the bids went showed just how out of control the bidders had become. Some go for a pretty penny, but it is rare that they go into a full war on something that seems completely mundane.
The bids started at $100 and continued to rise quickly. At $350, it seemed like the unit was already going for more than it could possibly be worth, but there was an excitement in the air and the bidding continued. Finishing at $500, the couple took the unit and prayed that they had not just made a huge mistake and lost a bundle.
Starting the Dig
As is the case in most bid wars, once a winner is chosen, the rest move on. A few decided to stay back to see what the couple just paid for, wondering if the bidding should have gone higher. What they found was a safe. Nothing to get too excited about, but the contents inside would change their lives and spark a story of legend.
It can be difficult to get in to a safe so that was the first priority. They needed to find a way to break in to the safe to see if the contents were of any value of all, but that was easier said than done. Without wasting time to try to find a key or code to get in, he decided to call a friend to help him get in.
Breaking the Lock
With a power drill and determination the two got through the lock and opened the safe, and what they found inside would be expected in a movie, but not in everyday life. The contents were stacks of $50 bills, one on top of the other, the safe full of them. Their initial excitement blinded them to the trouble this could bring.
Men in Uniform Arrive
Shortly after learning of what they had opened, excitement started to fade as police arrived on the scene. The couple had no idea what was going on and started to worry about what trouble this may have stirred up. After all, this much money was not just savings. The realization started to sink in that there may be more to the story than they initially expected.
The Story Gets Out
When the man opened the safe, initially, he sent uploaded photos to social media, which then got to the police quickly. This led to plenty of investigations from the police as he had already counted $1 million and had only started.
All told, the value of the stashed cash ended up at $7.5 million spread across multiple safes and containers in the purchased units. All denominations were represented, including pink slips for cars. This was a windfall to say the least, but big winnings rarely come without baggage.
The original owner learned of the purchase of the unit and was already working to get lawyers involved to ensure he got his money back. He wanted to make sure that the new owners knew he meant business, but said that it could all go away if he returned the money and kept $600,000 as a finders fee. Things were moving fast and with the police involved, things were getting stressful.
The new owner, Joe, spoke with his friend about the issues he was facing and learned that in California, once a unit was sold, the contents were forfeit and the purchaser were now the new owners. He was protected by state law, but that would not stop the original owners lawyers from getting involved.
There was a definite fear setting in once the original owner upped the finders fee to $1.2 million. The issue wasn’t the amount that he was getting for finding the money, the fear was who the people were that wanted this money back. Few people, handling their finances legally, would forget to pay the upkeep on a storage unit holding $7.5 million. If he took the offer, what would happen to him and his family?
At this point, Joe was in over his head. This is a crazy amount of money to find, and for only $500, by state law it was all his. At the same time, the people that owned the unit originally, were likely not on the good side of the law, at least in his mind. So trying to find a way out was priority number one. Storage Wars couldn’t help him at this point. This was all on him, and the police investigation as well.
The Moral Dilemma
The police investigation seemed to turn nothing up that could make the decision for Joe either. It seemed that he had to make a choice, accept the deal and get the money back to the original owner, regardless of how the money came to be, or stand behind the California law and keep money he technically didn’t earn. Sure, he got lucky, but what if there was no illegal activity going on behind the scenes from the original owners side, then the dilemma started to set in. What would he do?
Finding a Balance
Thinly veiled threats and offers continued to come in from the original owner. The unit, though, had been left unpaid for almost a year. The original owner had been sent letters about the debt and never responded. From all points of view, Joe was in the clear to keep all the money. But, still, it didn’t sit right with him.
The Art of the Deal
Joe decided that he was in the right and offered a fair deal for the money. The original owner and Joe would split the money down the middle, taking half each. This would keep legal fees out of the way and be fair for both parties. After all, the original owner never paid for the unit and Joe took a huge risk in the purchase. While the original owner may not have been as happy as if he had taken most of the money back, he at least didn’t lose it all.
The story seems to die there. No one seems to know what the original owner does or how the money came in to their possession to start, but Rene Nezhoda, owner of Bargain Hunters Thrift Store and co-host of Storage Wars is fairly certain that it is drug cartel or mafia related.