AOL is preparing to dig for buried gold and platinum on property in Massachusetts owned by the parents of a man it sued for sending millions of unwanted spam e-mails to its customers.
AOL said Tuesday it intends to search for gold and platinum bars the company believes are hidden near the home of Davis Wolfgang Hawke’s parents on two acres in Medfield, Mass. The family said it will fight in court to oppose AOL’s plans.
AOL won a $12.8 million judgment last year in U.S. District Court in Virginia against Hawke but has been unable to contact Hawke to collect any of the money he was ordered to pay. AOL accused Hawke of violating federal and state anti-spam laws by sending unwanted e-mails to its subscribers and won its case in a default judgment against Hawke, who didn’t show up in court.
“I don’t care if they dig up the entire yard. They’re just going to make fools of themselves,” said Peggy Greenbaum, Hawke’s mother. “There’s absolutely no reason for them to think that Davis Hawke would be stupid enough to bury gold on our property. My son is long gone.”
She said her husband and father intend to challenge AOL’s plans to dig on the family’s property and search the family’s 3,000-square-foot home. She said AOL’s lawyer notified the family that the company intends to use bulldozers and geological teams to hunt for gold and platinum on their property.
Greenbaum said she has not talked with her son in more than a year and complained about the embarrassment and humiliation he brought to the family.
Greenbaum said the family believes Hawke buried gold in the White Mountains 130 miles north of Boston. She said he once confided to her that he bought gold — rather than expensive homes or cars — because it would be more difficult to seize in lawsuits.
“We don’t know where is he,” she said. “We certainly wouldn’t allow him to put any gold on our property.”
AOL defended its efforts.
The dig isn’t something out of “Treasure Island,” AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said. “This is a court-directed, judge-approved legal process that is simply aimed at responsibly recovering hidden assets.”
To win a judge’s permission for the search, AOL submitted receipts reflecting large purchases by Hawke of gold and platinum bars, Graham said. The company indicated it believes Hawke buried the loot on his parents’ property using a shovel.
AOL said it will try to accommodate Hawke’s parents by not being too obtrusive.
A former U.S. prosecutor described AOL’s efforts as highly unusual. Marc Zwillinger said his law firm has seized plasma televisions, jet skis and other gadgets in unrelated spam and piracy lawsuits.
“But I’ve never had a case digging up gold bars and bullion,” Zwillinger said. “That’s definitely unique.”