Scientific analysis commissioned by the FBI shortly before agents set out to search for buried treasure suggested a huge amount of gold could be lying beneath the surface, according to newly released government documents and photos that delve deeper into the mystery of the 2018 digs in remote western Pennsylvania.
The report, written by a geophysicist who carried out microgravity tests at the site, hinted at an underground object with a mass of up to 9 tons and a density compatible with gold. The FBI used the consultant’s work to obtain a warrant to seize the gold – if there was any to be found.
The government has long claimed that its excavations were a failure. But a father-son pair of treasure hunters who spent years searching for legendary Civil War-era gold — and led agents to the wooded site, hoping for a commission of research – suspects the FBI double-crossed them and got away with a cache that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The newly revealed geophysical survey was part of a court-ordered release of government documents on the FBI’s treasure hunt at Dent’s Run, about 220 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, where legend has it a shipment of Union gold of 1863 was lost or stolen. en route to the US Mint in Philadelphia.
Dennis and Kem Parada, co-owners of treasure-hunting firm Finders Keepers, successfully sued the Justice Department over the records after they were blocked by the FBI. Finders Keepers provided the FBI records to The Associated Press. The FBI then published them on its website.
Technical survey data collected by geophysical consulting firm Enviroscan gave credence to the extensive fieldwork of treasure hunters at the site – and prompted the FBI to dig into a massive, covert operation that spanned several freezing days in the end of winter 2018.
John Louie, a professor of geophysics at the University of Nevada, Reno, unrelated to the dig, reviewed the Enviroscan report at the request of the AP and said the company’s “methods were very good.” and that “their conclusions represent a physically reasonable assumption”. the gold was buried at the site.
But he warned that the underground gravity anomaly identified by Enviroscan did not definitively establish the presence of gold. There are other technical reasons why the Enviroscan data could have turned out the way it did, Louie said.
“So it’s also entirely reasonable that the FBI didn’t find anything at the site, because there wasn’t really any gold there,” he said by email.
Enviroscan co-founder Tim Bechtel declined to comment on his work at Dent’s Run, saying the FBI did not give him permission to speak. The FBI would not discuss Bechtel this week, but said that after the excavation, officers “took no further steps to reconcile the results of the geophysical investigation with the absence of gold or any other metal.
Other documents from the newly released FBI file raise even more questions.
A one-paragraph FBI report, dated March 13, 2019 – exactly one year after the search – claimed that agents found nothing at Dent’s Run. No “metals, objects and/or other relevant materials were found,” the report said. “Due to other priority work…the FBI will be closing the captioned case.”
Anne Weismann, an attorney for Finders Keepers, questioned the credibility of the FBI report. She cited its brevity, as well as its timing – it was written after Finders Keepers began lobbying the government for records.
“It doesn’t read the way you might expect,” said Weismann, a former Justice Department lawyer. “If that’s the official account on file of what they did and why they did it, it says next to nothing, and that’s crazy.”
She added that if the government does not produce a more complete and contemporary account of its search for gold, it “will reinforce my view that this is not an accurate record and it was created as a cover-up And I don’t say that lightly.
In response, the FBI said the single-page document “is representative of standard summaries filed at the formal close of an FBI investigation.”
The agency has always denied finding anything.
Agents acted on information that Dent’s Run “may have been a cultural heritage site containing gold belonging to the United States government,” the FBI said in a statement, but “this possibility does not has not been confirmed by the excavations”. The FBI continues to unequivocally reject any claims or speculation to the contrary. »
The treasure trove of documents turned over to Finders Keepers also included nearly 1,000 photos, in grainy black and white, which show some – but certainly not all – of what the FBI was doing at the dig site, according to the treasure hunters.
Residents have previously recounted hearing a backhoe and jackhammer during the night between the first and second day of the dig – when work was supposed to have been halted – and seeing a convoy of FBI vehicles, including large armored trucks.
The FBI denied that any work took place at the site after hours, saying “the only nighttime activity was patrols on ATVs by FBI Police personnel, who secured the site 24 hours a day. throughout the duration of the excavations.
Parada suspects that the FBI recovered the gold in the middle of the night and then showed treasure hunters an empty hole in the afternoon of the second day.
“It’s very curious why the FBI is going to be so misdirected and obstructive about this,” said Warren Getler, who has worked closely with treasure hunters. “They worked that night under cover of darkness to escape, to escape our knowledge of something in which we are meant to be partners.”
Many of the FBI photos don’t seem relevant, including the hundreds of images of random trees and a wooded road leading to the dig site, while others just don’t add up or raise any concerns. additional questions, say Parada and Getler, author of “Rebel Gold,” a book exploring the possibility of buried caches of Civil War-era gold and silver.
FBI agents are shown standing around the hole in photos that appear earlier in the series, but are absent from almost all later images at the dig site.
Getler and Parada say the senior FBI agent told them the hole was filled with water on the morning of the second day, but the shoddy footage released by the government shows only a small puddle or may – be a little snow. They said the same agent spent most of the second day at base camp – where Getler and treasure hunters say they were largely confined to their cars – and not at the dig site.
The FBI said it’s standard for photos to “document site conditions before, during, and after FBI operations,” Parada says everything points to a clandestine overnight search and a second-day search that didn’t was only for show.
“I think we were expecting a few hundred photos from the nighttime search, and I think we were expecting photos of metal coins or bars,” Parada said. “I think there were pictures, but they disappeared.”
FBI records also show that several weeks before the dig, an agent from the agency’s art crimes team contacted Wells Fargo to ask if it had been shipping gold by stagecoach for the US Mint. in 1863.
Wells Fargo historians found no evidence of this, but said records from the time were incomplete. Wells Fargo shipped gold on a diligent basis, a corporate archivist wrote in an email to the FBI, but large quantities of the precious metal, as well as gold that had to be transported long distances, were ” best transported by ship or train”.
Getler said the gold could have been transported by wagon and not by stagecoach.
Further releases from the FBI are expected in the coming months.