Did the FBI make off with 'seven to nine tons' of Civil War-era gold in a Pennsylvania forest after a treasure hunting duo led them to its long-hidden location?
A father-son team wants to know, and has successfully sued for access to government emails about the dig.
Here's what we know, according to the Associated Press.
On march 13, 2018, treasure hunters Dennis and Kem Parada, who co-own the treasure-hunting outfit Finders Keepers, led FBI agents to a location in "Dent's Run," located approximately 135 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
The Paradas had spent years looking for the long-lost booty, an 1863 shipment of Union gold, which was either lost or stolen on its way to the US Mint in Philadelphia.
The FBI brought in geophysical consulting firm, Enviroscan, to survey the hilltop site, where their gravimeter identified 'a large metallic mass with the density of gold," according to Warren Getler, a consultant who worked closely with both the FBI and the Paradas.
An FBI agent told them the location of the mass was “one or two feet off Denny’s sweet spot,” recalled Getler, author of “Rebel Gold,” a book exploring the possibility of buried Civil War-era caches of gold and silver. “Then I went to ask how big is it. And he said, ‘7 to 9 tons.’ And I literally said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’”
That much gold would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars today — and, assuming it was there, would almost certainly touch off a legal fight over how to divvy up the spoils. -AP
The FBI says they found nothing at the site, while Enviroscan co-founder Timothy Bechtel said the FBI told him to keep his mouth shut about his findings.
The Paradas, meanwhile, say the FBI struck a deal to let them watch the site excavation - only to confine them to their car for most of the two-day dig, only to escort them to a "large, empty hole" at the end of the second day.
The emails are quite revealing. In one, an assistant US attorney in Philadelphia, K.T. Newton, wrote in an email marked "Confidential,": "We believe the cache itself is in the neighborhood of 3x5x8 (feet) to 5x5x8."
Since the Elk County site was on state-owned land, the FBI had to secure a federal court order to gain access. The legal maneuvering generated emails between Newton and Audrey Miner, chief lawyer for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
On March 13, as FBI agents clambered up a hill to the target, Miner bluntly asked Newton: “Can you please provide the basis upon which the Office of the United States Attorney asserts that the gold, if found, belongs to the federal government?”
Newton replied that a federal affidavit in the case was sealed. She instead offered to “discuss this generally with you on the phone,” according to email records released by the state under court order. -AP
Yet, on March 16, 2018 - two days after the dig ended, US Attorney Newton told Audrey Miner, chief lawyer for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: "we are all disappointed and scratching our heads over the several scientific test results."
In a subsequent March 28 email, Miner asked Newton for an update on the federal investigation, writing that "the gold story still has legs, and the DCNR is now getting a lot of ‘gold-diggers’ interested in Dent’s Run," to which Newton replied: "For your knowledge only ... we have no other scientific evidence, other than what the excavation had been based on, that any gold is hidden in that area."
Miner replied: "I guess you can’t come right out and state there is no gold to be found at Dent’s Run?" to which the prosecutor replied: "Unfortunately, we cannot."
On Wednesday, the Paradas plan to hold a news conference, where they will present claims that include residents reportedly hearing a backhoe and jackhammer overnight "when the excavation was supposed to have been paused," and seeing a "convoy of FBI vehicles, including large armored trucks."
"I gotta find out what happened to all that gold," Dennis Parada said last week, adding that the FBI's claim to have found nothing was "a slap in the face."
Cluck, meanwhile, is still pursuing government material on the case — nearly 2,400 pages, as well as video files, that the FBI has promised to turn over in response to his Freedom of Information Act request.
All documents in the federal court case about the dig remain sealed. For that reason, a state appeals judge recently declined to order the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to give Cluck the federal writ of entry and seizure warrant that the FBI agents relied on to gain access to the site. -AP
In a curious development which may shed some light on what's to come, a Commonwealth Court Judge, Kevin Brobson, wrote in a footnote of a Jan. 28 opinion rejecting Cluck's petition for more information, that the name of the sealed case is:
"In the Matter of: Seizure of One or More Tons of United States Gold."