AOL is preparing to dig for buried gold and platinum on property owned by the parents of a man it sued for sending millions of unwanted spam e-mails to its customers.
AOL said on Tuesday it intends to search for gold and platinum bars the company believes are hidden near the home of Davis Wolfgang Hawke's parents on 0.8 hectares in Medfield, Massachusetts. The family said it will fight in court to oppose AOL's plans.
AOL won a US$12.8 million judgment last year in US District Court in Virginia against Hawke but has been unable to contact Hawke to collect any of the money he was ordered to pay. AOL accused 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 Hawke, who did not 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."
At the height of Hawke's Internet activities, experts believe, Hawke and his business partners earned more than US$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.
Greenbaum said her husband and father intend to challenge AOL's plans to dig on the family's property and search the family's 280m2 home. 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 209km 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 is he," 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.