AOL Wants to Dig for Gold _ Literally
Wednesday, August 16, 2006; 10:29 PM
WASHINGTON -- 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."