A Milwaukee man won his decades-long fight to avoid claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to him.
Gene Sehrt died Sept. 5 at age 77, leaving behind a likely complicated process for dispersing the unclaimed $766,681 now that his will has been filed in probate court, reported the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The money comes from commercial properties he owned that were placed in receivership in 1975 by his mother, Lois Sehrt, who told the court she and other family members had not heard from him in three years.
“The whole family has basically disowned him,” said one of his sisters, Jaclyn Doty, of Illinois.
The land was transferred, and the court-appointed receiver, Aaron Feldman, rented the property for two decades and then sold the land in 1997.
A series of savvy investments by Feldman had bloomed into $617,000 by 2003, when he handed it off as unclaimed property to the Clerk of Courts Office and placed in a conservative account at Tri City National Bank — where the money has gathered more than $153,000 in interest.
Sehrt eventually resurfaced in Milwaukee after his mother died in 2000, leaving him $70,000, but he steadfastly refused to claim his money from receivership.
All he had to do to get his money was show up at the clerk’s office and identify himself.
For years, Sehrt did show up at the office every day to pore over records in his court case, which were set aside in a cardboard box for him by courthouse employees, but he never identified himself.
Sehrt believed his property had been improperly transferred — and he also believed that he should have been owed “millions” of dollars.
“It was his position that if he were to have claimed the money, that he could have been disturbing his right to rectify the wrong that was done to him,” said James Gatzke, an attorney who worked with Sehrt over the past 15 years and came to admire him.
He said Sehrt was an intelligent man, with strong principles and an obvious stubborn will.
“He was almost too smart,” the attorney said. “He had an incredible understanding of what was going on that he couldn’t necessarily explain in two sentences or a 15-second sound bite. Most people were not going to take the time or invest the energy to find out what it was he was talking about.”
Others who knew Sehrt said he was paranoid and had adopted various anti-government conspiracy theories.
“He does not believe in taxes,” said a private detective hired to track Sehrt down after his mother’s death. “He would also never use his Social Security number … Mr. Sehrt does not want to be found.”
After he started showing up daily at the Clerk of Court’s office, he spoke often to employees but never identified himself and sometimes wore disguises or used phony names.
“He really was sure our government was going to kill us all,” said an accountant for the county, Aimee Funck. “He was telling me, ‘Do you notice on the freeway that they have those little gates that go down? That’s to prevent us from leaving when they’re going to kill us.'”
Even so, she enjoyed talking to Sehrt and wished he would just give up his battle and take his money.
Sehrt rode the bus, used prepaid phone cards, dressed shabbily and was evicted from an apartment last year.
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. was granted a restraining order in 2013 against Sehrt and a woman who may have been his partner after the pair went to his house and sent letters there outlining claims about death threats they supposedly received from power companies, the Federal Reserve and Internet providers.
That friend and caretaker, Diane Lorbiecki, is believed to be named in Sehrt’s will, although she refused to answer reporters’ questions, and a newspaper story from a decade ago indicated he had a daughter.
Sehrt worked for years to build a lawsuit against everyone who he believed had done him wrong, and he continued assembling documents even after suffering a stroke last year.
“If I go away,” Sehrt told a reporter in 2005, “this case goes away.”