Buried cash: $2.1m Runaway Bay home built on site where tradies dug up $500k

On a picturesque street in the sleepy Gold Coast suburb of Runaway Bay, a luxury $2.1 million home hides an incredible secret.

On a picturesque street in the sleepy Gold Coast suburb of Runaway Bay, a luxury $2.1 million home hides an incredible secret.

The four-bedroom, two-bathroom waterfront “dream home” was sold off the plan in March by builder Morrison Construction Services, capping off a tumultuous legal saga that still has locals talking.

“Whenever I tell people where I live, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s where the cash was found,’” one neighbor told news.com.au. “I know a lot of people were fighting over it.”

In late 2019, a bitter legal dispute was sparked after two traditions dug up nearly $500,000 buried on the site.

Excavator operator Warren Bruggy and laborer Daniel Boyd discovered $388,850 in old paper notes and a further $100,000 in destroyed notes buried in plastic tubs, wrapped in Chinese newspapers.

The Reserve Bank later confirmed that the total value was $476,630.

Thinking they were doing the right thing, the pair took the cash straight to the police station across the road – to the outrage of their boss, Shane Grimwood, who allegedly sacked them on the spot when he found out.

The two traditions staked their claim in the Supreme Court of Queensland using a little-known “finders keepers” law, under which people who turn in lost property to the police can have it returned to them if the owner can’t be found.

But Scott Morrison, owner of Morrison Construction Services, argued the money belonged to him as the owner of the land.

Mr Bruggy and Mr Boyd argued that they had a contract to remove items excavated from the site, and therefore the owner had “disclaimed possession of those items removed during excavation”.

A major legal battle ensued over who would get to keep the loot, which at one point saw up to six parties wrangling for a share.

Mr Grimwood, co-director of DIG Earthworks, initially staked a claim but later withdrew.

In an affidavit provided to court, Mr Morrison claimed Mr Grimwood had called him saying he “couldn’t believe his guys had handed the money in” and was heading to the land “to fire them straight away”.

Mr Morrison alleged Mr Grimwood had tried to cut a deal to cut out his former employees.

“I’m not greedy … so we should just split it 50/50 and we could both be on a yacht eating oysters and drinking champagne,” he said, according to Mr Morrison’s affidavit.

Two other claimants — including a man who worked on the property 40 years ago — were also dropped out.

Mandarin Court Chinese restaurant owner Raymond Ma, the son of traveling chef Stephen Ma, also filed a claim for the money on behalf of his late father.

Police had contacted Peter Chan, one of the former owners of the property, in their search to find the original owner of the cash.

Mr Chan said he believed his former brother-in-law Stephen Ma, who died in 2015, had buried the money on his property in the early ’90s to avoid paying tax.

In court documents, he claimed Stephen Ma showed him a black plastic bag with bundles of $50 and $100 notes in 1993 while he was staying at his Runaway Bay home, and had asked him to keep the bag at the property, which Mr Chan refused to do .

Raymond Ma said in his affidavit that his father would often leave “Chinese newspapers around which were circled and marked in various places in pen for seemingly no reason”, matching the newspapers found with the cash, Nine News reported.

He also said his father’s “behaviour was unusual and that he spoke about things that he was paranoid about … he thought people were following and watching him and he told me to be careful about people following me as well”.

But Morrison Construction Services claimed the money couldn’t have been Stephen Ma’s because he “lacked the capacity and ability to have earned an amount of money as large as $476,630”.

Alternatively, the builder argued Mr Ma “threw away, and therefore abandoned, the cash found at the property”.

After a drawn out legal battle, the Supreme Court heard in August 2020 that the three parties had agreed to settle the matter privately.

The confidential settlement saw the two traditions, Mr Morrison and Mr Ma each walk away with an undisclosed sum.

David Topp, who represented Mr Morrison, told The Daily Mail at the time his client was “happy the matter was finalized in court today”. “The matter was mediated in strict confidence on Monday, and the applicant is happy with the outcome,” he said.

Dr Anthony Marinac, who represented both tradesmen, also said the pair were happy with the final settlement.

“The boys are very happy, as they have been, all the way along,” he said. “They did the right thing and took the money to police. They are very happy with the outcome.”

Inheritance lawyer Christine Smith had previously told Nine News it was possible the court “could come to the conclusion that none of those people are entitled to the money”.

“In which case it will either go to the Queensland state government or into general revenue for the federal government,” she said.

“If it’s found this money was earned through income one of the questions that might be asked is well, was there tax paid on that? I would imagine the Australian Taxation Office would be very interested in that money if they come to the conclusion it was derived by income.”

Michael Harvey from Harcourts Coastal Paradise Point, who sold $2.1 million home, said the exact spot where the buried treasure was found at the other end of the property, which has been subdivided into four lots.

While buyers generally weren’t aware of the history, homeowners in the area “still talk about it”.

“They all believe the tradition should have kept their mouth shut,” he said.

Mr Harvey said the location was “extremely sought after”, with the home selling off the plan several months before construction was completed.

“People love the area, the water aspect,” he said.

“Maybe they can dig up the slab and find some treasure themselves.”

frank.chung@news.com.au

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