Judge orders FBI to produce records on Civil War gold hunt
The FBI might not have found any Civil War-era gold at a remote woodland site in Pennsylvania — but it's definitely got records of the agency's 2018 dig, and will soon have to turn them over to a father-son pair of treasure hunters.
A federal judge has ordered the FBI to speed up the release of records about the search for the legendary gold, ruling Monday in favor of Finders Keepers, the treasure hunting outfit that led FBI agents to the remote site. The group accuses the Justice Department of slow-walking their request for information.
The FBI must turn over 1,000 pages of records per month, starting in 30 days, and the first batch of records must include a key report sought by Finders Keepers, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta ordered.
The ruling came four months after Finders Keepers sued the Justice Department over its failure to produce records on the FBI's search. The FBI has long insisted its March 2018 dig came up empty, but Finders Keepers says the government has acted suspiciously throughout the four-year saga.
Finders Keepers' owners, the father-son duo of Dennis and Kem Parada, spent years looking for the fabled 1863 shipment of Union gold that was supposedly lost or stolen on its way to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. The pair eventually led the FBI to a remote site 135 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh where they say their instruments identified a huge hunk of metal.
The FBI brought in its own contractor — the geophysical consulting firm Enviroscan — which said its sensitive equipment detected a 9-ton metallic mass suggestive of gold, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed last year at the request of news organizations including The Associated Press.
On Monday, Mehta ordered the government to include Enviroscan's report to the FBI, along with FBI photos taken at the site, in the first batch of documents it turns over to Finders Keepers.
But the judge declined to compel the Justice Department to explain a discrepancy in the number of video files it says it has of the dig. Finders Keepers said in a court filing last month that the FBI initially said its records included 17 video files. Now, the government claims there are only four videos. Federal officials have not explained the discrepancy, the treasure hunters said.
Mehta said the Freedom of Information Act only requires that an agency produce records, not answer questions from the person requesting them.
The FBI initially claimed it had no files about the investigation at all. Then, after the Justice Department ordered a more thorough review, the FBI claimed its records were exempt from public disclosure. Finally, in the wake of the treasure hunters' appeal, the FBI said it had located records it could potentially turn over — but that it would take years to do so. That prompted the treasure hunters' Freedom of Information Act suit seeking to compel production.