A federal judge in Portland, Maine, ruled Wednesday that treasure hunter Greg Brooks no longer has a claim to salvage what he once said was $5 billion in platinum, gold and diamonds on a British freighter sunk during World War II off Provincetown, Mass.
Reports of that amount of treasure, far exceeding any that salvagers have retrieved anywhere in the world, attracted considerable media attention when it was first announced more than three years ago. They turned out not to be true, according to the Cape Cod Times.
In December, Edward Michaud, the primary researcher Brooks used on the project, admitted that key documents that described the platinum and gold onboard were forgeries. In court depositions, Brooks said he had no proof there were ever diamonds onboard.
Based on the false treasure reports, Brooks and his company, Sea Hunters, were able to raise millions of dollars from investors without finding anything more than a box of rusty hatchets, part of the ship’s compass and scrap metal after years at the site.
The British government, which still claims ownership of the freighter Port Nicholson, said there was nothing onboard but rusty automobile parts and military equipment. Brooks had filed a claim in federal court in 2008 and was appointed the sole salvor and substitute custodian of the vessel.
The British Department for Transport joined the case in 2009 with a claim that there was nothing to salvage on the freighter and that Brooks should not be named custodian or do any salvage work.
In 2013 a group of dissatisfied investors put together their own salvage operation named Mission Recovery and asked to replace Brooks as sole salvor and custodian because of his poor performance.
The wreck of the Port Nicholson, struck by a German U-boat in 1942, is in 700 feet of water about 50 miles off Provincetown.
On Wednesday, Judge George Singal dismissed Brooks’ and his company’s claims to the freighter, denying their request to be able to pursue their claims to the ship in the future, noting both the falsified documents and Brooks’ failure to retrieve anything of substantial value.
“The facts of this case probably warrant indictments at both the state and federal level. There are likely securities violations on the state level and wire and mail fraud, among other charges, on the federal,” Paul Lawton, a lawyer and naval historian who has been investigating Brooks’ operations for 20 years, told the Cape Cod Times.
Some investors had borrowed against their homes to help support what was deemed a sure thing.
“I feel like we’ve been lied to all the time, right from the get-go,” said Steve Gallagher, who went in with two partners on a $125,000 share. “If he doesn’t get prosecuted, he could go out and do this again.”