This Is What It Sounds Like When an Informant Tries to Implicate His Boss
You know the scenario from nearly every TV and movie crime thriller, ever. The feds have their eyes on someone they think has committed a crime. They get one of the suspect’s associates to flip. And then, the big dramatic moment: The feds wire up the associate and send him back to see if they can get the suspect to implicate himself.
That’s exactly what happened in November 2014 when federal agents tried to bring down a New England treasure hunter named Greg Brooks. The feds sent Brooks’s longtime researcher, Ed Michaud—who had turned government witness and was wearing a wire—to meet with Brooks inside a truck in a Home Depot parking lot in Maine.
Here’s the game: Michaud is trying to get Brooks to admit he knew that Michaud was forging documents that were later used to lure investors to pony up at least $2 million. But Brooks already knows he’s being investigated, and he told me in June that he suspected Michaud was wired. Thus begins the dance.
Brooks, who has not been charged with a crime, is the target of an ongoing federal grand jury investigation into suspected false statements and forgery of a ship’s papers. Brooks gave me his version of this conversation in a June interview for my story “Hook, Line, and Sinker.” Court filings have quoted parts of it. But now, a federal court has unsealed the entire 49-page transcript, which reads like dialogue from a B-movie script.
BROOKS: I got to go see a bankruptcy attorney… And I’m going to file, because I don’t have any choice… When that happens, the SEC is definitely going to file some charges against me. … When they do that, I’m going to have to testify. And at this present point, right this second, I support you 100 percent. All right? So what I’m saying to you is just be careful what you say to me.
MICHAUD: I need some air.
Michaud brings up the three documents that appeared to show that the SS Port Nicholson, a British freighter torpedoed off Cape Cod in World War II, was carrying platinum or gold. Brooks’s attorney filed them as an exhibit in federal court in 2012. They’ve since been exposed as inauthentic.
MICHAUD: You know how we say, you know, you lie, I swear to it, that kind of shit, right?
MICHAUD: I faked those documents, okay? And you knew that.
BROOKS: I didn’t know it 100 percent.
MICHAUD: Well, you knew it. Let’s face it. Remember we were—we were struggling—
MICHAUD: — trying to get some—some shit going? How the conversation goes, I said it’s risky. You said—you said I understand. You said do what you can, and say you like, I swear to it. And I said vice versa, you know? So we agreed on that, and that’s how it went down.
Brooks doesn’t respond, so Michaud keeps talking. Brooks mentions a last-ditch plan to try to get the Russian government to take over the salvage of the Port Nicholson. (Brooks and Michaud had claimed the freighter was carrying Russian platinum.)
BROOKS: It’s time to stop this bullshit… I have no choice. There’s no money. There’s none.
MICHAUD: I’m playing dodgeball with the feds right now.
BROOKS: And I’m in over my fucking head deep.
Soon, Michaud tries again.
MICHAUD: The problem you have here, Greg, is that you accepted all the money, you know?
BROOKS: Oh, I know. I know.
MICHAUD: And you’re on the hook for that. I’m on the hook for the documents, and you’re on the hook for the money.
BROOKS: Right. I know.
Michaud admits he lied when questioned by attorneys for the British government, who were fighting Brooks’ attempt to salvage the Port Nicholson.
MICHAUD: I’ve been lying through four depositions here, you know, trying to give you—what do you call it?—plausible deniability, you know. Pretty good up to this point, you know. So anytime they asked me about a document, I lied my ass off for you…. We just don’t want to get too fucked here, you know?
BROOKS: Well, there’s no question we’re both going to get fucked now.
MICHAUD: Ah, shit, man. Yeah, we’re both on the hook, no doubt about it.
BROOKS: I know.
A few minutes later:
MICHAUD: Like you said, man, you lie, I swear to it, you know? Been sticking to that shit all through the depositions, you know?
MICHAUD: I’m not going to talk to the feds, and if I do, it’s going to be, “Oh, I can’t remember,” or whatever.
Actually, a fed had planted a mike on Michaud just minutes earlier.
MICHAUD: It’s the documents itself that’s phony. I did those for you, you know? Tried to cover your ass as best I could, plausible deniability and all that shit, you know? It’s fucked.
Once again, Brooks doesn’t respond.
MICHAUD: Our reputations are shot right now.
BROOKS: Right at the moment, but like I said, you know, it’s—I don’t see how anyone can prove one way or the fucking other.
No proof – that’s a point Brooks returns to.
MICHAUD: Right now, I’m waiting for the custom bracelets, you know, if they show up at my door.
BROOKS: There’s deniability there if you just keep—I mean, because they’re never going to find what’s-his-name, McCann.
MICHAUD: McCann is a story. Forget that. McCann was a real person, but he wasn’t involved in any of this. I was trying to cover, you know?
Michaud is talking about Jack McCann, a man who he’d claimed gave him the documents now under investigation. It’s one of several times Michaud talks about false statements and forgery, and Brooks doesn’t respond or challenge him. But when Michaud explicitly asks Brooks to admit that he knew the documents were fake, Brooks argues.
MICHAUD: Let’s hope these fake documents don’t come back and bite us in the ass too bad, you know? … Hopefully, I won’t get the knock on the door. And if I do, … I’m not throwing anyone under the bus. I’m sorry, you know?
BROOKS: Well, like I say, it’s like I’ve always had faith in what you’ve done, and I will always say that. I’ve said it. I said it in my depositions. I’ve said it all along, you know?
MICHAUD: Mm-hmm. Yeah, but I mean, you knew —you knew those documents were fake a long time ago, you know?
BROOKS: Not 100 percent, I didn’t.
MICHAUD: Yeah, you knew.
BROOKS: No, I didn’t.
MICHAUD: Yes, you did.
BROOKS: Do you want to fucking bet?
MICHAUD: We talked about it.
BROOKS: No, we never did.
MICHAUD: Yes, we did.
BROOKS: No, we didn’t, Ed. I’m telling you, we didn’t. I’ve stuck up for them because I do not—that’s why I stuck up for them because I had an idea, but I have no proof. The only proof I have is what you said this morning, right now.
MICHAUD: Well, we discussed it.
BROOKS: What, forging documents?
MICHAUD: No, we didn’t say it in those words.
BROOKS: Exactly. We didn’t. You’re right.
MICHAUD: I mentioned to you it was risky, and you said, “I understand,” and you said, “Do what you can.” And then you said, “You lie, I swear to it,” and vice versa.
Brooks says nothing until Michaud changes the subject. Then Brooks mentions a subject he brought up with me in June, that he still thinks there’s treasure on the Port Nicholson, because of a 2006 tip from Terry Kelly, an Australian researcher.
BROOKS: Well, I still believe there’s shit on that boat, so—I just wish we could have found fucking Terry.
While researching my story, I learned that Kelly died a few years ago.