Wayne Sabaj is smiling.
It’s been nearly four months since he found $150,000 hidden beneath the peppers in his backyard garden in the far northwest suburbs, and now Sabaj, 50, looks like a new man.
He was unemployed, broke, had a mouth full of painful rotting teeth and a scraggly beard and hair that, by his own account, made him look like a hillbilly.
Now, his closest friends can barely recognize him.
He hasn’t spent a dollar of the cash. It’s not his yet. He filed a claim for it, and if no rightful owner comes forward within a year, there’s a good chance he’ll get to keep the money.
Every tooth in his mouth was pulled — replaced by dentures and paid for by a dentist who wanted to do something nice because he couldn’t believe Sabaj turned in the cash to authorities.
“I can talk to people and smile without worrying about my teeth,” said Sabaj Friday after getting his dentures adjusted at Elite Dental Care in Downers Grove. “And I figured, ‘I got new teeth, I might as well get cleaned up and shave and get a haircut.’ It’s a whole new Wayne. Before I looked like I should be on the Jerry Springer show...now my friends say I look 20 years younger,” said Sabaj.
“His demeanor has totally changed,” said Dr. Mazar Shuaipaj. “He was reserved, shy, didn’t want to smile. . . . Now he’s a smiling extrovert.” The dental care cost just under $10,000.
Sabaj, a carpenter by trade, has found a few short-term jobs, too.
“Just last week I was up in Winnetka using wood pulled from old barns up in Wisconsin to frame a wine cellar. . . . It’s not full time, but things are better,” said Sabaj, who’s lived with his father and son in unincorporated McHenry County near Johnsburg since losing his home a few years ago.
Sabaj found the cash in his garden in late August when he went to pick some broccoli for dinner. The money was wrapped in plastic and stuffed in two nylon bags.
“Somebody will probably claim the money just before the year is up,” joked Sabaj, who says he doesn’t think about the cash often. “If I do get it, I’d like to buy a beat-up old house real cheap and fix it up so my son could live there.”
The McHenry County Sheriff’s office continues its investigation into the where the money came from.