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Future Utah treasure hunts in jeopardy after post-hunt controversy

Utah Treasure hunt organizers John Maxim and David Cline addressed the post-hunt controversy on the ‘Cache Me Outside’ podcast

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Chelsea Gotta of Pella, Iowa, walks with the trunk of money in the mountains east of Bountiful on July 16, 2023.

Chelsea Gotta of Pella, Iowa, walks back to her car after posing with the trunk of money she found off Mueller Park Trail in the mountains east of Bountiful on Sunday, July 16, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It took 51 days for Chelsea Gotta of Pella, Iowa, to find the $25,000 treasure hidden by two Utahns near Mueller Park Trail in May. But it took no time at all for Reddit users to question the legitimacy of the hunt after its completion, and the event is now engulfed in controversy.

Internet goers wrote of a possible leak centered around a user named “Jaqui,” who was accused of aiding Gotta in her quest for $5,000 of the prize money. 

Amid the chaos, hunt organizers John Maxim and David Cline addressed the post-hunt controversy recently on the “Cache Me Outside” podcast and left the future of Utah Treasure Hunts in jeopardy. 

“We still don’t know if we’re going to do another (treasure hunt), but we’ll see,” Cline said. 

The annual event in its fourth year, while incredibly popular, has been a money pit for the organizers. That would be fine with Maxim and Cline, who put $22,000 toward this year’s hunt, as long as it remained fun for them. This year it was not, they said.  

“Once this whole thing broke, that was the very first time that me and John looked at each other and were like, ‘Why are we even doing this,’” Cline said. 

While the hunt’s masterminds acknowledged the validity of peoples’ concerns surrounding a leak, which Cline describes as their “biggest fear,” they weren’t pleased with the harsh treatment of Gotta online and how quickly everything was called into question.

“I hope after four years of doing this, even after all this craziness, that people believe that we really are trying to be as fair and honest and open as possible,” Cline said. “But even after all of this, if you still don’t, then just don’t waste your time in the future looking for it.”

Cline and Maxim spent two days with “no sleep” investigating the possibility of a leak. They questioned family and friends and even briefly entertained the idea of planted recording devices picking up their conversations. 

“We were like Sherlock Holmes, going through our whole history,” Cline said. 


John Maxim, left, and David Cline announce plans to hide $20,000 in the Utah wilderness during a press conference in South Salt Lake on May 31, 2022. The 2023 treasure hunt was held as well, but controversy after the event has caused the organizers to consider future events.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

They quickly ruled out the possibility of a leak and believed that Jaqui “legitimately” solved the poem around July 6. Cline said the poem’s solution was entirely in his head and not written down anywhere, making a leak increasingly unlikely. And he doesn’t understand those who believe they would have orchestrated it.

“The integrity and the trust that the treasure hunting community has in us is pretty much the most valuable thing we have,” Cline said. “And to think that we would just want the hunt to end so we’re just going to give the solution to some random person, that’s crazy to me.” 

However, one accusation turned out to be true. Gotta confirmed Jaqui sent her the solution shortly before finding the chest, according to Cline, but he stressed that doesn’t take anything away from her accomplishment. 

“She worked her butt off, and she was, like all the other treasure hunters, up late trying to get stuff,” Cline said. “... Even if it was leaked, which we’re pretty sure it wasn’t, (Gotta) still did nothing wrong. Because she doesn’t know that, she doesn’t know who this person is. It is just some random person in the ether that has another idea, just like hundreds of others.” 

“She won this thing fair and square. 100%,” Maxim added. He said Gotta was one of the top treasure hunters the entire time and didn’t like the “guilty until proven innocent” attitude that many online users were taking. 

And as discussed on the podcast, there aren’t any rules against treasure hunters helping each other out. Anything goes in treasure hunting as long as it is legal. 

After the news broke, Cline discovered he had an entire chat history with Jaqui, and he quickly recorded all their conversations before the account was deleted, which helped give him “a pretty good idea” of who the person is. Maxim confirmed they have messages from Jaqui since the QR hunt last year.

Cline hasn’t reached out to Jaqui, but hopes she will contact them to clear the air. Until that happens, he can never be 100% sure what transpired. Regardless, Maxim and Cline know things need to change. They’re planning to have a “heart-to-heart” soon and see if they want to do the 2023 QR hunt in the fall.

Right now, though, the future of Utah Treasure Hunts is uncertain.