WASHINGTON (AP) – 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.

AOL said 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 two 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 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 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.”

At the height of Hawke’s Internet activities, experts believe, Hawke and his business 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.

“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.”

Hawke’s mother 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.

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.

Hawke attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he led a neo-Nazi group called the Knights of Freedom from the computer in his dorm room. He told a South Carolina newspaper in 1999 that he changed his name from Andrew Britt Greenbaum because he was tired of having a Jewish-sounding name.

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 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 defended its efforts.

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.

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

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

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


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