A scientific analysis commissioned by the FBI shortly before agents began digging for buried treasure suggested there was a vast amount of gold below the surface, according to newly released government documents and photos that deepen the mystery of the 2018 dig in remote western Pennsylvania.

The report, by a geophysicist who conducted microgravity tests at the site, hinted at an underground object with a mass of up to 9 tons and a density similar to gold. The FBI used the consultant’s work to obtain a warrant to seize the gold, if any were found.

The government has long claimed that its excavation was a failure. But a pair of treasure hunters, father and son, who spent years searching for legendary Civil War-era gold, and who led agents to the forest site, hoping to receive a search fee, suspect that the FBI double-crossed them and fled with a hideout. that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The newly revealed geophysical survey was part of a court-ordered release of government records about the FBI’s treasure hunt at Dent’s Run, about 135 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh, where legend has it that a shipment of gold of the 1863 Union was lost or stolen. on the way to the United States Mint in Philadelphia.

Dennis and Kem Parada, co-owners of the Finders Keepers treasure hunting company, successfully sued the Justice Department over the records after the FBI obstructed them. Finders Keepers provided the FBI records to The Associated Press. The FBI later posted them on its website.

Technical survey data compiled by geophysical consultancy Enviroscan gave credence to treasure hunters’ extensive fieldwork at the site, and prompted the FBI to dig in a massive, secret operation that lasted several frigid days in late 2018 winter.

John Louie, a professor of geophysics at the University of Nevada, Reno, who was not involved in the dig, reviewed Enviroscan’s report at the request of the Globe Live Media and said that the company’s “methods were very good” and that “their conclusions represent a hypothesis.” physically reasonable” that the gold was buried at the site.

But he cautioned that the subsurface gravity anomaly that Enviroscan identified did not definitively establish the presence of gold. There are other technical reasons why the Enviroscan data might have turned out the way they did, Louie said.

“So it’s also completely reasonable that the FBI didn’t find anything at the site, because there was actually no gold there,” he said by email.

Enviroscan co-founder Tim Bechtel declined to comment on his work at Dent’s Run, saying the FBI has not given him permission to speak. The FBI did not discuss Bechtel this week, but said that after the dig, agents “took no further action to reconcile the geophysical survey findings with the absence of gold or any other metal.”

Other documents in the newly released FBI case file raise even more questions.

A one-paragraph FBI report, dated March 13, 2019, exactly one year after the dig, stated that agents found nothing at Dent’s Run. No “relevant metals, articles and/or other materials” were found, according to the report. “Due to other priority work, the FBI will close the case captioned.”

Anne Weismann, a lawyer 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 like one would expect,” said Weismann, a former Justice Department attorney. “If that’s the official record on file of what they did and why they did it, it says almost nothing and it’s crazy.”

She added that if the government does not produce a more complete and contemporary account of its search for the gold, “it will increase my opinion that this is not an accurate record and that 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 the standard summaries submitted when formally closing an FBI investigation.”

The agency has consistently 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 “that possibility was not confirmed by excavation. The FBI continues to unequivocally reject any claim or speculation to the contrary.”

The trove of documents turned over to Finders Keepers also included nearly 1,000 photos, in grainy black and white, showing some, but certainly not all, of what the FBI was doing at the dig site, according to the treasure hunters.

Residents have previously said they heard a backhoe and jackhammer during the night between the first and second days of the dig, when work was supposed to have stopped, and saw a convoy of FBI vehicles, including large armored trucks.

The FBI denied that any work was done on the site after hours, saying that “the only nighttime activity was ATV patrols by FBI police personnel, who secured the site 24 hours a day during the night. the excavation”.

Parada suspects the FBI recovered the gold in the middle of the night and then showed treasure hunters an empty hole on the afternoon of the second day.

“It’s very curious why the FBI is going to be so misleading and obstructive on this,” said Warren Getler, who has worked closely with treasure hunters. “They worked that night under cover of darkness to evade, to escape our knowledge of something that we’re supposed to be partners in.”

Many of the FBI photos are seemingly irrelevant, including the hundreds of images of random trees and a wooded road leading to the dig site, while others simply don’t add up or raise additional questions, say Parada and Getler, author of “Rebel Gold”, a book exploring the possibility of buried gold and silver deposits from the Civil War era.

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 lead FBI agent told them the hole was full of water on the morning of the second day, but low-quality images released by the government show only a small puddle or maybe a little snow.

They said the same agent spent most of the second day at base camp, where Getler and the treasure hunters say they were confined to his car, not the dig site.

The FBI said it is standard that the photos “document site conditions before, during and after FBI operations.” Parada claims that everything points to a clandestine dig overnight and a second day dig that was just for show.

“I think we were expecting a couple of hundred photos of the night dig, and I think we were expecting images of coins or metal bars,” Parada said. “I think there were photos, but they disappeared.”

FBI records also show that several weeks before the dig, Wells Fargo was approached by an agent from the agency’s art crime team to ask if he was sending gold on errands for the U.S. Mint in 1863.

Wells Fargo historians found no evidence of it, but said records from the time are incomplete. Wells Fargo shipped gold by stagecoach, 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 “better transported by ship or rail.”

Getler said the gold could have been transported by wagon, not by stagecoach.

Additional releases from the FBI are expected in the coming months.

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