California authorities aren't buying landowner Joseph Hardesty's excuse that he is merely running a gravel business from a Gold Rush-era mine in a gold-rich part of the state. Authorities in El Dorado County say he is running one of the most blatantly illegal gold-mining operations ever seen in the state, and have slapped him with 14 criminal charges, including operating without permits and polluting a creek, AP reports. Inspectors say they found a "full-blown surface-mining operation" on his land, complete with shaker tables to separate gold from gravel.
Hardesty, who faces close to a million dollars in fines, surrendered to police yesterday. Authorities believe a riverbed on Hardesty's property is yielding up to 3 ounces of gold for every ton of material. "He can make more than we can fine him," the chief investigator says. "The amount of gold they can pull out of there is astronomical." A nearby resident says he has found plenty of gold flakes and nuggets weighing up to an ounce downstream from Hardesty's land. "They won't let anybody mine it because the California Gold Rush could start again," he says. "All the people up here are paranoid about it." (Read more California stories.)