One of America's most notorious "spammers" - the underground entrepreneurs responsible for the deluge of adverts for Viagra, pornography and high-interest loans which swamp e-mail inboxes - may have buried his illegal gains in his parents' garden.
AOL, the e-mail giant whose millions of customers were among Davis Wolfgang Hawke's targets, has won permission to dig up two acres of Massachusetts in the search for gold bars and platinum believed to have been stashed there.
The company won a $12.8m (£6.7m) judgment against Hawke last year, but he has disappeared, and now AOL is sending in the diggers to find its money.
"I don't care if they dig up the entire yard. They're going to make fools of themselves," Peggy Greenbaum, Hawke's mother, said. "There's absolutely no reason for them to think Davis Hawke would be stupid enough to bury gold on our property. He is long gone."
At one time, Hawke and his partners earned more than $600,000 a month by sending unwanted sales pitches over the internet for loans, pornography, jewellery and prescription drugs. He lived a nomadic life, travelling around in an old police car, and told journalists he buried his valuables. His mother thinks that the gold bars and other precious metals he bought are buried in the White Mountains north of Boston.
AOL accused Hawke of violating anti-spam laws by sending unwanted e-mails to its subscribers and won its case in a default judgment against Hawke. Now it is planning to use bulldozers and geological mapping equipment to search the Greenbaum property.
An AOL spokesman said: "This exercise isn't something out of Treasure Island. This is a court-directed, judge-approved legal process simply aimed at responsibly recovering hidden assets."Reuse content