Fabled Civil War-Era Gold Sparks Legal Fight Between Two Treasure Hunters And The Federal Government

(YURI GRIPAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Gretchen Clayson Contributor
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A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Justice Department for its failure to provide documents related to an alleged excavation of Civil War-era gold nearly four years ago.

Treasure hunters Dennis and Kem Parada, owners of Finders Keepers, claim that the FBI has not been “acting in good faith” after the agency helped to excavate a site they believe held a cache of Union gold that disappeared during the Civil War, the Associated Press (AP) reported Wednesday. For years the father-son duo searched for the legendary treasure and in March 2018, the duo detected a large metallic mass with their equipment about 135 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The Paradas showed their readings to the FBI and within a month, the FBI hired an outside firm to conduct an underground scan, according to the AP.

According to an FBI affidavit, the FBI’s hired contractor also detected an underground mass that appeared to weigh up to nine tons and had the density of gold. This find prompted Jacob Archer of the FBI’s art crime team in Philadelphia to seek out a seizure warrant from a judge because he feared that if the federal government sought permission from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to excavate the site, the state would claim the gold for itself, ensuring a costly legal battle.

The gold was never found, according to the FBI.

The Paradas and “Rebel Gold” author Warren Getler had an agreement with the FBI to watch the excavation, the AP reported. However, agents had confined them to their car for most of the dig, then, at the end of the second and final day, escorted them to the site — where they were met with a large, empty hole. (RELATED: Hitler’s Gold? Treasure Hunters To Excavate Palace Used As A Nazi Brothel After Clue Found In Diary)

“We were embarrassed,” Dennis Parada reportedly stated. “They walk us in, and they make us look like dummies. Like we messed up.”

Neighbors’ accounts of late-night excavations and FBI convoys, however, turned the Parada’s disappointment into suspicion, prompting the duo to file for a Freedom of Information suit against the Justice Department.

The FBI initially claimed it had no files about the investigation. Later, the FBI said its records were exempt from public disclosure. Now, the FBI says it has located 2,400 pages of records and 17 video files that it could potentially turn over — but that it would take years to do so.

“There’s been a pattern of behavior by the FBI that’s been very troubling,” said Anne Weismann, a lawyer representing the Paradas. “From the outset, it seems as if the FBI is doing everything it can to avoid answering the question of whether they actually found gold.”

“After my years of experience here using equipment, there was something here, something here of value, some kind of precious metal. And whatever it is, it’s gone now. And that’s what I want to get to the bottom of, is what was in that hole,” Kem said, according to the AP.

The Paradas have asked the Justice Department for expedited processing, which has since been denied.  As of last month, they had yet to assign the FOIA request to a staffer for processing, according to the AP.