Miscovich could go home with his emeralds but without the title that would award him the rights to any treasure found at the site. Without it, investors are unlikely to fund any salvage ventures.

"He basically said in his ruling that this was a scam," Kim Fisher told the Key West Citizen after the ruling, perhaps reading too much into the decision. "We've spent a lot of time and money on this case in an effort to protect the integrity of the legitimate treasure-hunting industry."

In February, the Fishers declared they had found Mike Cunningham. A follow-up in the Citizen spread the news, implying that Miscovich's fraud would soon be exposed.

Pat Kinsella
Pat Kinsella

The news didn't faze Miscovich. It was a different Mike Cunningham, he explained; there were two men with the same name in Latrobe. Sure enough, at a deposition in Pennsylvania, the woman who notarized the $50,000 agreement between Miscovich and Cunningham would testify that the individual located by Motivation's attorneys was not the man she'd met.

"The site is still unprotected," Miscovich says, "and I know there's still a fortune of emeralds out there. What if someone else goes out there and files a claim on the site?"

Today, Miscovich theorizes that the emeralds could have come from a wrecked World War II transport ship known to be lying in the area. Or drug runners or smugglers transporting the stones across the Gulf of Mexico may have dropped the load after spotting the Coast Guard.

Though the Fishers posed like heroes defending the treasure industry, Miscovich notes that by crucifying him, they torpedoed a competitor. Had Miscovich been granted title, investors who still dump money into the Atocha might have invested with Miscovich's company instead.

So if he knows the secret location that still harbors thousands of emeralds, why isn't he out there right now, scooping up what's left?

Money is the simple answer. Because he has no legal rights to the site and because the case has been widely publicized, someone else could move in on the find. "It would be very easy to follow us out there," he says. "Once that happens, there will be a hundred boats out there by next week."

Miscovich has personally transported the emeralds from Florida back to Latrobe, where they're sitting today. He plans on selling off stones to pay for more attorneys' hours. Right now, Miscovich is shopping his stones in Europe and Japan, where the market is hotter for emeralds.

He's also filed an appeal of the January decision. The claims he dumped stones on the sea floor and concocted the whole thing — ridiculous, he says. A fraud that size would cost money — money he doesn't have.

Josh Lents, the New York City gem expert who's logged the most hours examining the stones over the past three years, analyzing all 150 pounds, laughs off a $50,000 valuation. The stones have been subjected to a battery of long-term testing, including x-ray fluorescence and infrared examinations. Lents estimates Miscovich still stands to make $10 million to $20 million.

"The branding and marketing of the material will be the most crucial element in fetching these numbers," Lents says. "If they were to just simply liquidate everything by selling it all in one shot to the highest bidder, they will cut into their potential profits by millions. If they add in another variable by telling the story behind it, well, you have something entirely different."

Despite that potential payday, the treasure hunter says the whole ordeal hasn't been worth the trouble. He has a recurring fantasy: He calls up the news crews, loads up all 150 pounds of emeralds, then points a boat for the Cayman Trench, 8,000 feet deep and unreachable to humans. With the cameras rolling, he tips the whole lot overboard, watching as the black sea swallows the glittering stones.

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