Business

Titanic artifact salvager sued for failing to repay $25,000 loan

Posted August 18, 2018 12:07 p.m. EDT

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 being sued over a past-due loan from a friend.

Harris borrowed $25,000 from Pinellas resident Douglas Prescott in mid 2014, a lawsuit filed this month in Pinellas County says. 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. The artifacts 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 shipwreck. The company faced significant setbacks, including a court ban on cutting into the shipwreck and removing artifacts, equipment difficulties and repeated interference from Hurricane Alberto. RMS Titanic was eventually allowed to take only 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 TV show that ran for 11 seasons. Opened in June, the interactive exhibit tells the family's history and delves into the Robertsons' duck business. But Harris' involvement fell through before the venture was completed.

Harris said he recalled telling Prescott: "The whole thing went to hell in a hand basket, but don't worry, I'll take care of it."

Harris never did take care of it, the lawsuit says. And Jon Coats, a St. Petersburg lawyer Prescott retained, said Harris never actually turned over the artifacts offered as 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, interest and legal fees.

Harris, who said he has known Prescott for nearly 25 years, was taken aback by the lawsuit and said he intended to settle out of court.

"He literally lives across the bridge from me," Harris said. "It's not like we don't see each other at Publix."

Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.