WASHINGTON – Dig this: AOL believes a renegade Internet spammer buried gold and platinum on his parents' property in Massachusetts and wants to bring in bulldozers to search for the treasure and satisfy a $12.8 million judgment it won in federal court.
The family says it knows nothing about any buried treasure and will fight AOL's gold-digging plans.
AOL said Tuesday it intends to search for bars of gold and platinum that the company believes are hidden near the home of Davis Wolfgang Hawke's parents on two acres in Medfield, Mass.
AOL won a $12.8 million judgment against Hawke last year in U.S. District Court in Virginia, but has been unable to contact him to collect any of the money he was ordered to pay.
AOL accused Hawke of violating U.S. and Virginia anti-spam laws by sending massive amounts of unwanted e-mails to its subscribers. It 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."
[Hawke, born Andrew Greenbaum, headed a neo-Nazi organization in high school and college before it was revealed that his father was Jewish.]
At the height of Hawke's Internet activities, experts believe, Hawke and his partners earned more than $600,000 each month — much of it cash — by sending unwanted sales pitches over the Internet for loans, pornography, jewelry and prescription drugs.
"They were millionaires, if only briefly," said Brian McWilliams, a journalist who interviewed Hawke and wrote extensively about him in "Spam Kings," a 2004 book about e-mail spammers.
McWilliams said Hawke lived a nomadic life as an adult, eschewed luxuries and described burying his valuables.
"Hawke lived like a pauper, really," McWilliams said. "He drove a beater of a used car, an old cop car. He never owned a house or anything."
Greenbaum said her husband and father intend to challenge AOL's plans to dig on their property and search their two-story, 3,000-square-foot home in a wooded residential area of Medfield, a small town about 20 miles southwest of Boston.
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 used proceeds from sending Internet spam to buy 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."