Dig this: AOL believes a renegade Internet spammer buried gold and platinum on his family's 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.
The Internet company said it intends to search for bars of gold and platinum that AOL believes are hidden near the home of Davis Wolfgang Hawke's parents on two acres in Medfield, Mass., and near his grandparents'home in nearby Westwood.
Hawke's ex-girlfriend, Patricia Lingenfelter, told investigators he confided to her that he had once buried cash in his mother's garden. She called Hawke"fundamentally lazy"and said she believes he likely buried gold on the property owned by his parents and grandparents, according to court records unsealed Wednesday in the case.
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."
Lingenfelter, the ex-girlfriend, said Hawke buried cash but worried it would be damaged by water. She said he regularly left alone on overnight hiking trips carrying a fireproof safe and shovel, but he never confided where he buried his loot.
"I would ask him and then he would give me the same thing.'It's none of your business. It's mine,'"she said.
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.
The head of J.J. Teaparty Inc. of Boston, Miles Coggan, told AOL's lawyers that Hawke bought $350,879.50 worth of gold from the company between August 2003 and March 2004, court papers said. Hawke told Coggan he earned the money"selling pills on the Internet,"Coggan told lawyers.
"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.
In court papers, Hawke's grandfather told AOL's lawyers,"I have no interest in helping people find him."But Robert J. Davis said he knew nothing about any gold buried on his land. He described his grandson as highly intelligent but allowed he was"maybe not great on common sense."
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. She told AOL's lawyers that Hawke once quipped that people will need to dig up five states to find his money.
"We don't know where he is,"she said."We certainly wouldn't allow him to put any gold on our property."
AOL said it will try to accommodate Hawke's parents by not being too obtrusive.
"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.
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