Tye Kuykendall was looking for a gas leak in the used car he'd recently purchased when he found a surprise inside.
There was a hidden compartment behind the back seat. When he opened it, he came face to face with Benjamin Franklin: Kuykendall had found a sack with stacks of neatly bound $100 bills.
"Whew! I thought I was rich," Kuykendall said Thursday. He ran inside to show his wife, but reality quickly set in. He said he realized the money was either counterfeit or connected with drugs. So he called 911, and the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office came within 15 minutes to collect the stash.
That was Monday. On Thursday, the Cherokee sheriff announced that the bounty totaled $200,000. Alas, it was fake money, the sheriff's office said. The sheriff said the car, a 2000 Buick, was towed by a police agency the sheriff isn't identifying back in 2006 and had been sitting in a Fulton County impoundment lot for more than three years.
Kuykendall, of Ball Ground, said he bought the car at auction for $400 last fall, then spent an untold amount of money on repairs. The car had been sitting for years with the windows down and was moldy inside. The brakes needed work, too. And when he got the car on the road, he realized there was a big problem with the fuel system because the car reeked.
"I was hunting around, taking seats out, trying to find out why those fumes were burning our eyes so bad," Kuykendall said. "That's how I found it."
Now, he figures that the prior owner intentionally created the leak to throw off drug-sniffing dogs.
Kuykendall, 76, said he's been telling plenty of friends about his unusual find.
"Most people say, ‘You turned it in?' I said, ‘Sure I did; it wasn't my money.'" He admits that he did ask the sheriff early on if he'd be able to keep his find if it turned out to be real money.
It's a good thing he decided to call authorities, though. Had he used the faux dough, he would have been committing a federal crime. Anyone convicted of passing counterfeit money faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000, according to federal statutes.
Cherokee officials have called in the U.S. Secret Service to help find whomever possessed the fake cash before the vehicle was impounded.
Kuykendall, meanwhile, is planning to get the car repainted so the criminals from its past don't come looking for it -- and their fake cash.
He said it runs great.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.