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Investors Squeal With Delight At Computer Division Of Booty

October 17, 1986

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) _ Sherry Culpeper said she never dreamed she would someday own part of the 350-year-old treasure she has been showing tourists who come to the gift shop at Mel Fisher’s Treasure Salvors Inc.

″This is incredible, a dream come true,″ she said. ″After all this time working for peanuts, I just can’t believe I’m taking some of this home.″

Ms. Culpeper was one of 600 investors and employees who got a share Thursday of the $100 million booty from a 17th-century Spanish galleon for which Fisher had searched 16 years.

″They are going to get a return beyond their wildest dream,″ said Bleth McHaley, vice president of Treasure Salvors. She estimated the average return at 20-to-1.

The ancient treasure was totaled and distributed via a new-fangled method - computer.

The computer on Thursday completed 2 1/2 days of calculations and displayed the message, ″Division Complete, Congratulations Treasure Salvors,″ said Ms. McHaley.

As soon as the computer stopped printing and flashed its message, she said, ″about 25 or 30 champagne corks popped ... people moved out of the computer room, and they just went bananas.″

Many of the investors began splitting up the bounty in a warehouse at the company’s Key West headquarters.

″Oh my God, I’m rich,″ Ms. Culpepper screamed, then began hugging friends, co-workers and reporters. Her share included three silver bars weighing a total of almost 250 pounds, a 6-carat emerald and a rare coin.

″I bought a dream and I always knew it was there. It’s a dream come true,″ exclaimed Leah Miguel, a curator with Treasure Salvors, who received a gold bar and two emeralds.

The division of gold, silver, emeralds and artifacts to investors was another milestone for Fisher, who overcame legal and financial troubles and personal tragedy during his hunt for the treasure of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. His divers found the wreck in 1985.

A spokeswoman said Fisher, who got 4 percent, or about $4 million, of the haul, was out of town.

Not all of the investors were happy. Some have been waiting more than 20 years for their investment to pay off.

Bernice Feild, of Del Mar, Calif., was skeptical because she remembers other divisions of booty that yielded her very little.

″We’ve gotten practically nothing,″ she said in a phone interview from her home Thursday. ″I got my stock in 1964, and we’ve gotten almost nothing over that time.″

The Atocha left Havana on Sept. 5, 1622, as part of a fleet of 27 ships bound for Spain with treasure from the New World.

Less than a day out of port, a hurricane hit ships in the Florida Straits, sinking the Atocha and seven other vessels.

Fisher fought a long legal battle with the state of Florida over who had the rights to salvaged booty. He’s also fought other salvors and solicited investors for cash for the research.

In 1975, his son and daughter-in-law died while looking for the Atocha.

Lorraine Repp of Clearwater, a stockholder who invested a decade ago, has followed the latest developments on the Atocha in the newspapers. She was pleased by the computer division of the booty, but wants something more definite.

″That’s a little help after 10 years,″ she said. ″But ... I’d rather have the cash in my hand.″

So far, Fisher’s divers have recovered 177 gold bars, 900 silver bars, thousands of coins and artifacts and continue bringing up treasure from the ocean bottom.

Treasure Salvors Inc. is sending treasure lists to investors not present Thursday and expects to have the treasure distributed from its Key West vault by the end of February.

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