By Lloyd Sowers - My Fox Tampa Bay
It's one of the richest overnight arrivals at any airport, anywhere, ever -- bucket after bucket, filled with 17 tons of silver and gold coins.
"It took an entire 757 to transport all of the coins back to the United States. Every square inch, including every seat of the plane, had a bucket of coins belted in," said Mark Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of Odyssey Marine Exploration.
Now, for the first time, they show what's inside one of the buckets: it's a clump of coins, fused together by two hundred years on the bottom of the sea.
One bucket contains about a hundred coins. Gordon shows it, saying it's one of the smaller ones.
"We actually picked up coins from the Black Swan site in clumps of a thousand and three thousand coins," Gordon explained.
"Black Swan" is Odyssey's code name for the treasure , found in deep international waters off Gibraltar. Spain believes it was their Spanish Galleon Mercedes that sunk in 1804, carrying a fortune.
The discovery set off a firestorm.. Spain seized odyssey's ship, and arrested the captain. But by that time, the treasure was in Tampa, leaving Spain to battle for the booty in U.S. federal court.
That's when Gordon became suspicious of the government.
"We've known for a long time something didn't seem right, that the U.S. government was intervening in the Black Swan case in a way that was very prejudicial," he said.
Then, the secrets were revealed by Wikileaks: there were transcripts of conversations between U.S. and Spanish officials, discussing the find off Gibralter, the Tampa Admiralty Court, and also a painting.
Gordon believes they were making a deal.
"That the U.S. government was actually working with the Spanish government to try to orchestrate a trade," he said.
A trade where U.S. officials would help Spain get the treasure if Spain would return a $20 million painting, long sought-after by a well-connected American family. It was stolen from their grandmother in Europe more than 60 years ago by Hitler's storm troopers.
"If people told me there was a movie coming out featuring sunken treasure, trading for Nazi art, government interference in a business, you would think it's beyond fiction, but it's reality here," Gordon said.
The coins themselves contain yet another twist: it's where they came from in the first place.
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