Man Fought Until Death Instead Of Claiming $766,000 Due Him

Man Fought Until Death Instead Of Claiming $766,000 Due Him

For some, a principle is worth more than money. To a Milwaukee man, the wrong he was done by the government was worth more than $766,000 owed to him and he died having never claimed the money.


The huge pile of money Gene Allen Sehrt refused to claim has outlasted him.

Sehrt died Sept. 5 after collapsing outside his west side Milwaukee home.

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He was 77. He is survived by $766,681 held as unclaimed property by the Milwaukee County clerk of circuit court. His name was on it, and all he ever needed to do was come and get it. He never did.

For Sehrt, it was always more about the principle of the matter than the principal and interest. Until his last breath, he complained that judges, lawyers and others in the justice system cheated him out of far more money, perhaps millions, by placing his commercial property in receivership way back in 1975 because his family could not find him for three years.

“He disputed the amount of money that was left to him. 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 New Berlin attorney James Gatzke, who had done some work for Sehrt the past 15 years and had come to admire him.

“The question is was the transfer of those assets done properly? That’s been his dispute all along,” he said.

Gatzke walked into Clerk of Courts John Barrett’s office last month and informed him that Sehrt had died and that Sehrt’s will would be filed in probate court soon. Gatzke told me the money will finally be claimed, but he would not say who is named as the beneficiary in the will.

Sehrt was very well known to Barrett and his staff. Over the years, he had stopped in or called many times, sometimes in disguise or giving a false name, sometimes to request copies of documents, sometimes to complain, and lately to warn an accountant in the office about supposed government plots. In all those trips, he never asked for the money, which far exceeded any other pot of unclaimed cash held by the office.

“He really was sure our government was going to kill us all,” the accountant, Aimee Funck, said. “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.'”

As far-fetched as that and his other conspiracy theories sound, Funck found Sehrt to be lucid and interesting. He would call from a phone with a limited number of pre-purchased minutes, which struck Funck as a sign that Sehrt would have greatly benefited from claiming what was his.

“I told him so many times to give up and take the money,” she said.

It was Sehrt’s late mother, Lois, who petitioned the court to place her son’s property at 22nd and North Ave. in receivership. For the next few decades, court-appointed receiver Aaron Feldman, who had years of experience in real estate, handled the rentals of the property and in 1997 its sale.

Feldman invested the money wisely and it grew and grew until, with the court’s blessing, he handed it off to Barrett’s office in 2003 for safekeeping. By then it was $613,000 and has since grown another $153,000 in a conservative account at Tri City National Bank. At the moment, it’s earning just 0.3% interest in a certificate of deposit.

In court records, Sehrt is faulted for doing little or nothing to prove to the court that he wasn’t really absent and should have the property transferred back to him. He refused to come to court or reveal his whereabouts, continuing the shadowy behavior from years earlier when he protested against freeway expansion in Milwaukee under an assumed name, Jay Franklin.

Sehrt was a shabby dresser. Barrett said he would see him riding the bus and assumed he was “living aimlessly about.” Sehrt was evicted from an apartment near 27th and Fond du Lac Ave. last year. Most recently he was renting an upper duplex on N. 40th St. in the Pigsville neighborhood south of the Miller Valley.

Because he was estranged from his family, Sehrt’s death notification was made to Diane Lorbiecki, 52, described in the medical examiner’s report as his good friend and caretaker. There’s speculation she is named in the will. Reached by phone last week, she refused to answer my questions. The report says he has no family, though a Journal Sentinel article about him in 2005 mentioned sisters and a daughter, Lisa, who lived out of state and would be about 53 now.

In 2013, Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. was granted a restraining order against Sehrt and Lorbiecki after they showed up at his house and sent letters there regarding death threats allegedly posed by power companies, the Federal Reserve and Internet providers.

Gatzke said Sehrt had a stroke eight months ago, which affected his speech and ability to walk. The medical examiner lists the cause of death as heart disease. He was cremated. By his own wish, there was no funeral or newspaper death notice.

Sehrt was a smart guy and a good man who stood up for what he believed, Gatzke said. His trust was hard to gain, and he was probably more stubborn than he needed to be.

“He was almost too smart. 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,” Gatzke said.

Even three quarters of a million dollars was not enough to make Sehrt cave. You wonder if he heard the money calling out to him.

He never stopped amassing records and assembling a case against those he believed had done him wrong. He was always building up to filing suit against the whole lot of them.

“But he never did,” Funck said. “He never even got close.”

This is a sad case. However, a man must have his principles and if he felt wronged, taking the money might have felt, to him, like a tacit form of consent.

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