Treasure-Hunt Debunker Hopes for Indictments in Shipwreck Investigation
When a federal court unsealed an agent’s affidavit that describes a fraud and forgery investigation involving a Maine treasure hunter and his Massachusetts researcher, no one was happier than Paul Lawton. The Boston-area naval historian has tracked the shipwreck-hustling of Greg Brooks and Ed Michaud—described in our story “Hook, Line, and Sinker”—for two decades.
“Every time I’d read a story, I’d say, ‘This is the most outrageous shit in the world,’” says Lawton.
By day, Lawton, 51, of Brockton, works as a human resources director for the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department. Outside work, he pursues his passion as a naval researcher. He’s been following the failed shipwreck ventures of Michaud and Brooks since the mid-1990s, when New England newspapers covered Michaud’s claims that he’d found a German U-boat off Cape Cod and Brooks’ hunt for another phantom U-boat in Maine’s Casco Bay.
“If anyone had done their basic due diligence and asked a maritime historian, they’d say this does not hold water,” says Lawton, who taught a community college class on New England shipwrecks.
Lawton began compiling a timeline of Brooks’s and Michaud’s shipwreck activities and a voluminous collection of news stories, web pages, and court documents about the two men. In 2011, after Brooks and Michaud claimed there was $3 billion worth of treasure on the S.S. Port Nicholson, a British freighter sunk off Cape Cod in World War II, Lawton wrote to federal and state prosecutors in Maine, requesting a criminal investigation.
The authorities didn’t pay much attention at the time. But today, Brooks is the target of an investigation by a federal grand jury and the subject of an inquiry by the Maine Office of Securities.
Lawton sent his information on Brooks’ and Michaud’s early careers with Tim Shusta, one of the lawyers for the British government who exposed the two men’s documents about the Port Nicholson as inauthentic. Lawton also liberally shared his information with several media outlets—including Boston magazine, after I reached out to him for his take on Brooks and Michaud. He’s the type of eager source who makes a reporter’s work easier by providing potential leads to check, rare documents, and shortcuts to publicly available information. His copies of decades-old court filings, one no longer available otherwise, helped me go into vivid detail about Michaud’s ill-fated early projects. He also connected me with an unhappy investor in Brooks’ company who spoke for my story.
Lawton says his motive was “just to keep these people from rewriting history.” Neither Brooks nor Michaud ever personally wronged him, and he’s never accepted payment for his information, he says.
“These guys would make up a completely fabricated story about things that happened, including real men, guys who were in battle, many of [whom] gave their lives,” Lawton argues. “That’s what pissed me off the most.” (Suspected crimes listed on the December search warrant for Brooks’ house include false statements and forgery of a ship’s papers.)
Now, Lawton is hoping for indictments. “I’m hoping these guys find whatever justice they have coming to them,” he says.