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John Edwards Stakes His Claim on Pirate Booty

The presidential landlubber owns loot in a $500M sunken galleon -- unless Spain gets it back.

The question of the day: Just how much of the $500 million sunken treasure found in the Atlantic last weekend belongs to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards?

I put a call in to Edwards' campaign yesterday morning to find out, but I haven't heard back yet.

The reality? The populist one-term senator will get an undisclosed piece of the action from the sunken 17th-century galleon.

The ship, laden with gold and silver, was found at the bottom of the Atlantic by a little-known exploration company, Florida-based

Odyssey Marine Research



Even less well known is who owns OMR.

Biggest shareholder: New York-based Fortress Investments, a private equity and hedge fund manager. Senior adviser and major investor: John Edwards.

Edwards' personal financial disclosures show he's an investor in the exclusive Drawbridge Global Macro Fund, which owns the 9.9% stake in OMR.

Ten percent of $500 million. After costs, of course.

Fortress investor relations manager Lilly Donohue did not return a call or an email seeking information on the Global Macro fund.

Fortress' stake is even bigger than at first appears. In a complex holding, it owns 3.1 million shares, plus millions more in preferred stock and warrants. Total economic interest is the equivalent of 6.98 million shares.

Profits in the last week already come to $19 million.

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OMR stock, which closed at $4.60 on Friday before news of the discovery, has since rocketed to $7.35. The value of Fortress' stake could be as much as $51 million.

Fortress isn't alone in cheering its good fortune.

Greg Stemm is the 49-year-old exploration boss at OMR. He's the one with the nautical beard. He's made more than $5 million in a week.

Stemm is sitting on nearly 2 million shares, plus around 200,000 options. Value today: $14.8 million.

A treasure-hunter with stock options. Isn't Wall Street terrific?

Company CEO John Morris, who took time out a year ago for cancer treatment, holds another 1.74 million shares and options. Value today: $12.8 million.

It should be even more.

OMR stock peaked Monday morning at just over $9, valuing the company at well above $400 million. The shares have come off sharply since.

The main reason for the decline? Saber rattling by the Spanish government. Madrid says the treasure found by OMR might be "Spanish" and they might sue to get it "back."

Ahem. Memo to the Spaniards: Whom do you think you're kidding? Every single ounce of gold your country's galleons brought back from South America, all those centuries ago, was stolen from the natives. The conquistadores raped, murdered and plundered the continent for every scrap of precious metal they could find.

If your pirates lost the gold and someone else found it, exactly how much moral claim do you think you have?

If we're playing finders keepers, the treasure belongs to Stemm, Morris, Edwards and the other shareholders in OMR. If we aren't playing finders keepers, it belongs to the Incas and the Aztecs.

OMR might need a really good trial lawyer on its side. Lucky thing they know John Edwards.

In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Brett Arends doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Arends takes a critical look inside mutual funds and the personal finance industry in a twice-weekly column that ranges from investment advice for the general reader to the industry's latest scoop. Prior to joining in 2006, he worked for more than two years at the Boston Herald, where he revived the paper's well-known 'On State Street' finance column and was part of a team that won two SABEW awards in 2005. He had previously written for the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail newspapers in London, the magazine Private Eye, and for Global Agenda, the official magazine of the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. Arends has also written a book on sports 'futures' betting.