In May 2005, AOL won a $12.8 million lawsuit against Davis Wolfgang Hawke and two other men who AOL says made millions by targeting AOL members with spam offers for everything from penile implants and spying software to diet pills, according to court documents. Not long after, Hawke disappeared.
Hawke, a reputed member of a neo-Nazi group, was born Andrew Britt Greenbaum and changed his name to hide his Jewish heritage, according to his mother, who says she thinks he's in Belize.
Now AOL aims to collect, even if that meansin Medfield, Mass., located about 22 miles southwest of Boston.
That's not sitting well with Hyman and Peggy Greenbaum. Peggy Greenbaum says the couple had nothing to do with spamming and can't believe that their son would be "stupid" enough to bury gold bars on their property.
"We don't have an attorney. My husband is writing an objection, and I'm writing an objection to searching our property and also the interior of house--any kind of search," Peggy Greenbaum said in an interview with CNET News.com. "Not that we're hiding anything; it's just that we haven't been a part of any of Britt's spamming activities."
The Greenbaums may not have much of a say in the matter. In April, U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton granted a motion giving AOL the right to any property that Hawke left with his parents or his grandparents.
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham confirmed that the company has obtained a court order, but he would not say when or where, exactly, the company plans to search.
Sophisticated search planned
Peggy Greenbaum said she has not yet received a court order to specifically search her property, a four-bedroom home on almost 2 acres of wooded land. But she and her husband did receive a letter telling them to send a list of any effects Hawke left behind at their home. The list amounted to nothing more than some old furniture and his baby clothes, she said.
AOL plans to use sophisticated sonar and radar detection to determine if there is anything of significance on the property they search, Graham said. If the company finds something that "looks" like gold or platinum, then it will be ready to disrupt the soil. Graham said AOL plans to conduct any search in a professional manner, with an effort to make minimal disruption to the property and its owners.
"I don't think he buried any gold on our property because he's not that stupid. And I don't think AOL thinks he did, either," Peggy Greenbaum said.
Greenbaum does believe the gold or platinum bars exist, though. According to her, Hawke told his father that he had purchased gold, but not how much. While the notion of the purchase seemed strange, Hawke's parents chalked it up to their son's eccentric nature.
Greenbaum says her son, now in his late 20s, was never quite right mentally after an extended bout of physical abuse by school bullies, who targeted Hawke for being Jewish when they lived in the rural town of Lakeville, Mass., leaving him with a permanently damaged hand.
From receipts shown to her and her husband by AOL, Greenbaum believes that at least $365,000 in gold or platinum bars exists. But she doubts that her son buried anything on their property, because he knew his parents had plans to move.
"Before AOL even sued him, we weren't sure how long we were going to be here because the house is so big," his mother said. "I am hoping to move soon, but I don't want to move right away. I don't want people to think I'm moving because of...you know...all the publicity. My point is that Britt was fully aware of the fact that we planned to move, but that we weren't sure when."
Greenbaum said that, in addition to saying he had stashed his spam profits on her property, Hawke also bragged to a former girlfriend about burying assets on his grandfather's property, the Rocky Woods hiking reservation in Medfield and in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Greenbaum said she doesn't believe those stories, however. Hawke is "crazy as a June bug," according to Greenbaum, so there is no telling what was going on in his mind or where he has hid his fortune.
AOL says it considers this search business as usual.
"This particular defendant may have a colorful and outrageous history--there are some conditions that might make this case unique--but in terms of pursuing assets or property, that is not new," Graham said. "AOL has recovered a Porsche, as well as. This is simply a continuation of efforts that we have been known to conduct in the past and have been successful at."