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Judge weighs request to dismiss Earhart suit

Ben Neary, Associated Press

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) -- A federal judge said Tuesday he plans to rule soon on a request to dismiss a lawsuit by a Wyoming man who claims he was defrauded when he donated money to search for the plane of Amelia Earhart after it had already been discovered in the South Pacific.

Timothy Mellon, son of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, in June sued the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery of Delaware and its executive director, Richard E. Gillespie.

Mellon, of Riverside, Wyo., claims the group solicited over $1 million from him last year without telling him it had found the wreckage of Earhart's Lockheed Electra in its 2010 search of the waters around the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro, about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii.

The disappearance of Earhart in 1937 is one of the most haunting mysteries of aviation history. In 1932, she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, and she was trying to become the first woman to fly around the globe when she disappeared in the South Pacific.

The aircraft recovery group and Gillespie strongly deny that they found the wreckage. Members of the group have been searching for Earhart's plane for more than 20 years.

Lawyer John Masterson, who represents the group and Gillespie, told U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl that Mellon's allegations that the group had found Earhart's airplane amounted to a "factual impossibility."

He said it was absurd for Mellon to argue that the group had found Earhart's plane nut kept the search going to fleece donors.

Masterson said the discovery could spawn movies, books and other lucrative ventures.

Masterson also argued that Mellon's lawsuit failed to provide particulars about when, where or by whom the alleged fraud was committed.

Lawyer Tim Stubson argued for Mellon that the group didn't have the right to pretend not to know what Mellon was talking about.

"They know exactly what misrepresentations were made, and who made them," Stubson said.

Stubson said Mellon is arguing that the recovery group also could have been negligent in failing to recognize the wreckage of Earhart's aircraft in underwater video it took on the 2010 expedition.

"I understand why the defendants don't want to move forward in this case," Stubson said. "It provides some very difficult questions that they don't want to answer."

Judge Skavdahl said he will issue a decision as soon as possible on the request to dismiss the case.

Gillespie noted after the hearing that seven members of the group had traveled to Casper to show their support. Despite Mellon's contribution, Gillespie said, the group's expedition still wound up more than $400,000 in the red.

Gillespie said he regards Mellon's claim as "absolutely ridiculous." He said many experts have analyzed the video and said they don't agree that it depicts the famous aircraft.