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Five Accused Of Fleecing 700 of $1.7 Million In Treasure-Hunting Scam

May 12, 1988 GMT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Five people trying to cash in on gold fever were arrested today on charges of running a treasure-hunting scam that fleeced $1.7 million from 700 investors, state officials said.

″This was a treasure salvage company, but the only treasure found was the money that was taken from the pockets of investors,″ said state Comptroller Gerald Lewis.

He announced the arrests at a joint news conference with Statewide Proscutor Peter Antonacci and Commissioner Tim Moore of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, whose offices helped in the probe.

Lewis said the three agencies also are investigating as many as 15 other treasure-hunting operations seeking investors with ″treasure fever.″ Most of the operations are in Florida, but a few are out of state.

Most of those under investigation have been trading on the success of treasure hunter Mel Fisher, whose find of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

″In this case, the people bought a ship from Mel Fisher and they bought apparently a small amount of treasure so they could show this and use it and use Mel Fisher’s name,″ Lewis said.

Arrested and charged with multiple counts of fraud, securities fraud, sale of unregistered securities and racketeering were Jack R. Donovan, 43, of Deltona; Donald R. Durant, 69, of New Orleans; Allen C. Jones, 41, and his wife, Elizabeth Jones, 39, of Orlando, and Ernest Rice, 64, also of Orlando.

They were indicted May 5 by a grand jury. The indictment states the alleged scam involved Donovan’s Tesoro USA, Jones’ Tesoro Ltd. and World Treasure Finders Inc.

Lewis said the operators claimed they found three wrecks and that treasure would be sold to a museum in Orlando, none of which was true.

At its very best, treasure-hunting is a risky business, Lewis said. He pointed out that it took Fisher years to find his fortune, and his son and daughter-in-law were killed during the effort.

″Frankly, in my opinion, if a person wants to do this they’d be better off getting a boat, going out in the water, taking their money (and) throwing it overboard,″ Lewis said.

″They’re as likely to have that turn into treasure, pop back up to the surface, as they are investing in one of these bogus operations,″ he said. ″And they’ll come out actually a little bit better because they would have had a nice boat ride in the process.″