Longtime underwater artifact salvager G. Michael Harris is again in the public eye, but this time not for treasure. Harris, a Belleair resident involved in recovering artifacts from the famous Titanic shipwreck in the early 2000s, is currently being sued over a past-due loan from a friend.
According to a lawsuit filed earlier this month in Pinellas County, Harris borrowed $25,000 from county resident Douglas Prescott in mid-2014. The loan came with the stipulation that the money would be repaid within 90 days, plus 7 percent interest.
As collateral, Harris agreed to offer several artifacts salvaged from the wreckage site of the Titanic. These included a 1912 gold coin, a 1902 $5 bill, another $5 bill and an 8-pound piece of coal.
Harris was the chief operating officer of Clearwater company RMS Titanic Inc., which set out in the early 2000s to recover artifacts from the famous shipwreck. The company faced significant setbacks, including a court ban on cutting into the shipwreck or removing artifacts, equipment difficulties and repeated interference from Hurricane Alberto. RMS Titanic was eventually only allowed to take artifacts that fell out of the shipwreck.
The loan referenced in the lawsuit, Harris said, was financial backing for a Duck Dynasty exhibit in Louisiana that Harris was working on for the Robertson family, stars of the "Duck Dynasty" show that ran for 11 seasons. Opened in June, the interactive museum tells the familyís history and delves into their duck business.
But Harrisí involvement in the exhibit fell through before the venture was complete.
Harris said he recalled telling Prescott: "The whole thing went to hell in a hand basket, but donít worry, Iíll take care of it."
Harris never did take care of it, the lawsuit said. And according to Jon Coats, a St. Petersburg lawyer Prescott retained, Harris never actually turned over the artifacts collateral once he defaulted on the loan.
"It would be a completely different situation if he did," Coats said.
Prescott is seeking repayment of the $25,000, as well as interest and legal fees.
Harris, who said he has known Prescott for nearly 25 years, was taken aback by the lawsuit and said he intends to settle out of court with Prescott.
"He literally lives across the bridge from me," Harris said. "Itís not like we donít see each other at Publix."
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.