Hensley: Union gold, treasure hunters and going round and round with the FBI

·5 min read

It’s a story that has all the makings of an Indiana Jones movie – fabled and mysterious treasure, tantalizing clues, odd twists and turns.

And a government agency that appears to have been less than forthcoming for almost four years.

At least, that’s the takeaway here after reading about the travails of Dennis and Kem Parada, a father-son duo who own the treasure-hunting company Finders Keepers.

Doug Hensley
Doug Hensley

Some backstory first. Legend has it that an 1863 shipment of Union gold somehow vanished on the way to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Whether it was lost or stolen remains undetermined. Likewise the exact amount or other specifics, but the story went that the gold was hidden on what is now state-owned land in Pennsylvania.

This is where Finders Keepers gets involved. The Paradas apparently invested a lot of time trying to locate the cache of gold, and their metal-detecting equipment indicated something huge was buried in an area about 130 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

This is where the FBI gets involved. For whatever reason, the Paradas met with the FBI, which, according to an Associated Press report, brought in an outside contractor whose more sophisticated equipment indicated something large was buried underground. How large? The mass purportedly weighed nine tons and had the density of gold.

Doesn’t mean it was gold, only could have been gold. Could have been something else.

In March 2018, the FBI's shovels went to work. The Paradas were allowed to go, but they were kept in their car and not allowed to watch what happened. When it was over, the FBI said nothing to see here and escorted the Paradas to a large, empty hole to back up their claim.

Suffice it to say, the Paradas weren’t buying what the FBI was selling. In the years since, Finders Keepers and its representatives have busied themselves with trying to learn what the FBI found that day. Meanwhile, the FBI, according to the Paradas, has been completely unhelpful. In fact, the agency has repeatedly refused to answer one simple question: Did you find any gold?

The back and forth continued recently with Finders Keepers filing a federal lawsuit against the Justice Department because its has repeatedly failed to produce documents about the FBI’s search. “There’s been a pattern of behavior by the FBI that’s been very troubling,” Anne Weismann, who represents Finders Keepers, said in an AP story. She also questioned whether the FBI is “acting in good faith.”

Say it ain’t so.

According to previous AP reports on the matter, the FBI at first claimed to have no files about its investigation into the gold’s existence. The Justice Department responded by ordering the agency to look harder. The FBI then said the records were exempt from public disclosure.

At last, the FBI said it had now somehow discovered 2,400 pages of records and 17 video files that “could” be turned over, although it would take “years” for that to happen,” per the AP.

And we wonder why people are skeptical of government agencies. There is only a little discrepancy between zero files and 2,400 pages. It would be exceedingly difficult to accidentally overlook that sizable raft of information.

As of early January, the case remains in legal limbo. According to the AP, Finders Keepers asked the Justice Department for expedited processing, something within the department’s power in cases of “widespread media interest involving questions about government integrity.” Although that seems to apply in this instance, the DOJ denied the request.

Obviously, we don’t know everything about this case, but it makes one wonder why the FBI would withhold this information. The Paradas are convinced the gold was found and spirited away by the government. Nearby residents claim to have heard excavation work going on in the overnight hours of early March 2018. They also say they saw FBI vehicles and armored trucks leaving the area. The most forthcoming the FBI has been about its work is saying evidence suggested the location might have had significance as a “cultural heritage site,” according to the AP.

Let’s speculate for a few moments. A simple yes or no probably would not be so simple. First, say the gold exists. If it were of the mass suggested by the metal-detecting equipment, its value could be hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s a lot of money, and where there is lots of money, there is usually lots of greed.

Federal authorities believe it is their gold, but Finders Keepers contends it has a legitimate claim to the treasure. After all, it invested time, effort and money, making hundreds of trips to the area, locating it and might have recovered the treasure were it not for involving the federal government.

Which begs the next question. If the gold exists and is on state-owned land, wouldn’t Pennsylvania have a strong claim? In a previous AP story on this tug-of-war, the state’s interest was a concern for the FBI, according to an unsealed affidavit last June. A member of the FBI’s art crime team in Philadelphia said he had probable cause to believe “one or more tons” of gold was hidden there and Pennsylvania might claim the gold as “abandoned property,” which, the FBI believed, would set the stage for a protracted and expensive legal fight.

One thing for sure. This story isn’t going away. Finders Keepers will keep the pressure on until it has all of the records or a definitive answer. Considering the resources of the federal government, it could be a long, long time before either happens.

In the meantime, I keep thinking back to the first Indiana Jones movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” You may remember all the speculation around whether the Ark of the Covenant truly existed (speculation continues today), but Jones recovered it just in time for the government to take possession, put it in a nondescript crate and pack it away in some obscure corner of some faraway warehouse.

A similar fate could be in store for that lost shipment of Union gold – and we will never know.

Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Avalanche-Journal.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Hensley Union gold, treasure hunters and going round and round with FBI