PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland-based deep sea treasure hunter embroiled in a legal battle with the British government and a group of investors said in a sworn statement that he was duped into a costly treasure hunt by bogus research.
The affidavit from treasure hunter Greg Brooks filed Thursday came as part of a larger dispute over the rights to salvage the S.S. Port Nicholson, a World War II freighter sunk by a German submarine about 50 miles northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts.
In the statement, Brooks said he was deceived by two documents provided to him by Massachusetts contractor Trident Research, run by Edward Michaud, that indicated there was a valuable cache of platinum and gold aboard the 500-foot sunken ship that would be worth more than $3 billion.
Brooks, whose companies operated by the names Sea Hunters, Sea Hunters 2 and Deep Sea Hunters, said in the affidavit that Michaud notified him during a meeting on Nov. 23 in Maine that those documents were faked.
“I was stunned and extremely dismayed. He had previously told me that he had obtained the documents from a well-connected contact of his named Jack MacCann, formerly of the Office of Naval Intelligence.” Brooks said in the affidavit. “I asked him, ‘What about Jack MacCann?’ He replied, ‘I made him up.’”
The claim that documents indicating the existence of a $3 billion sunken treasure were falsified is the subject of a federal investigation, according to a court filing Wednesday by Brooks’ attorney, Marshall Tinkle.
The court filing did not indicate which federal agency is pursuing that investigation.
The admission brings longtime speculation about the validity of that particular research to an end, one year after Brooks scrapped the recovery effort and listed his recovery vessel, Sea Hunter, for sale. In April, Maine’s securities regulator began an inquiry into Brooks’ operation, raising concerns about the venture that attracted an estimated $10 million from investors.
Judith Shaw, the state’s securities administrator, said she could not comment on the statement from Brooks. In April, she said her office is “aware of Mr. Brooks’ efforts, and we’re interested in learning more about them.”
The case prompting the admission of falsified documents on Thursday deals with the broader issue of salvage rights for the ship, an issue for which Brooks’ attorneys have argued the Trident documents are irrelevant.
“Such documents and files are not relevant to any claim of either [the secretary of state for transport of the United Kingdom] or Sea Hunters in this action,” Tinkle wrote. “Mr. Michaud’s admitted falsification is now the subject of a federal investigation. Federal investigators may be trusted to get to the truth of the matter.”
Tim Shusta, an attorney for the United Kingdom, said that his client remains interested in the case because the country had paid insurance costs for merchant ships that were sunk during World War II, making the government the owner of the ship and putting it in charge of the salvage effort.
“We have always said there was no platinum or gold [on the ship],” Shusta said.
Shusta said the British government contends there are documents to prove the ship was one of many it employed under a time charter and for which it had procured and paid war risk insurance.
A group of investors, under the name Mission Recovery, also is seeking rights to salvage the ship, claiming it is more capable.
Seth Holbrook, a Massachusetts attorney working with the investor group, said he had not reviewed the documents filed Thursday and that he has focused primarily on the questions of maritime law in the case. Ken Denos, another attorney representing the investors, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.