- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

The company said yesterday it intends to search for gold and platinum bars that the company thinks are hidden near his parents’ home on 2 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 Davis Wolfgang Hawke but has been unable to contact Mr. Hawke to collect any of the money he was ordered to pay. AOL accused Mr. 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 Mr. 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, Mr. 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 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 attorney notified the family that the company intends to use bulldozers and geological teams to hunt for gold and platinum on their property.

Mrs. 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. Mrs. Greenbaum said the family thinks Mr. 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 he is,” she said. “We certainly wouldn’t allow him to put any gold on our property.”

AOL defended its efforts.

“This exercise isn’t something out of … ‘Treasure Island.’ This is a court-directed, judge-approved legal process that is simply aimed at responsibly recovering hidden assets,” AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said.

To win a judge’s permission for the search, AOL submitted receipts reflecting large purchases by Mr. Hawke of gold and platinum bars, Mr. Graham said. The company indicated that it thinks Mr. Hawke buried the loot on his parents’ property.

AOL said it will try to accommodate Mr. Hawke’s parents by not being too intrusive.

A former U.S. prosecutor described AOL’s efforts as unusual. Marc Zwillinger said his law firm has seized plasma televisions, personal watercraft and other gadgets in unrelated spam and piracy lawsuits.

“But I’ve never had a case digging up gold bars and bullion,” Mr. Zwillinger said. “That’s definitely unique.”

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