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Las Cruces company digs deep for Pancho Villa’s stash, other treasure

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Working with some of the people searching for the legendary treasure of Oak Island, a Las Cruces company is making a name for itself not only hunting for artifacts and treasure, but also in surveying, utility mapping and engineering, the use of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and other cutting-edge technology, historic preservation, research and forensic science.

One of Construction Survey Technologies, Inc.’s (CSTi) most recent projects was searching for plunder possibly hidden by Mexican Revolution hero Pancho Villa in a home he owned in downtown El Paso. That search became the focus of “Pancho Villa’s Plunder,” a program that aired March 1 on TV-PG. (Visit www.imdb.com/title/tt18328412/.)

CSTi owners and founders John Gallegos, CEO, and David Acosta, president, began their work on the Villa property in El Paso doing a boundary survey. Their sub-surface mapping and excavation led to the discovery of bottles, bones, dishes and other interesting artifacts, but no gold.

“We found treasure anyway,” Gallegos said.

That is because CSTi’s work on the Villa “stash” house was followed online by Prometheus Entertainment, which produces “The Curse of Oak Island” and other reality television shows. One of the visitors to the El Paso site who met with Gallegos and Acosta and set up the TV show was Marty Lagina. He and his brother, Rick, are the principal treasure hunters on Oak Island, which is located off the coast of Nova Scotia and has been the site of treasure hunts for more than 230 years.

CSTi’s two days of excavation did not give them time to explore everything, but historians know “Pancho Villa had treasure,” Acosta said. In addition to the excavating work, team members may have seen the ghosts said to haunt the soldiers’ quarters located at the back of the property, he said.

“The treasure and gold” for CSTi, Acosta said, is people like Lagina, Mexican historian and Pancho Villa expert Cindy Medina, military historian Florian Waitl, Rigoberto Gonzales and others CSTi has worked with in El Paso and on other projects across the Southwest in the last few years.

The company is also engaged in research and excavation work at military encampments in and around Columbus, New Mexico, which Villa raided in 1916. It used GPR to help with erosion problems at the Old Picacho Cemetery in west Las Cruces, even locating some of the cemetery’s unmarked graves.

“You don’t realize what’s underneath your feet,” Gallegos said.

CSTi’s reputation is built on the more than 50 years of surveying and construction-industry experience Gallegos and Acosta have between them. Acosta, who lives in Las Cruces, and Gallegos, a native of Milan, New Mexico who lives in El Paso, also have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the latest high-tech equipment to not only map, measure and dig but also to analyze the data they produce to minimize contractors’ risk of striking a utility line or running into some other costly anomaly.

“In the end, it’s about quality information,” Gallegos said.

Both are committed to the positive growth of their industry.

A New Mexico State University graduate, Acosta is a member of the New Mexico Professional Surveyors and the state’s representative to the National Society of Professional Surveyors. He is also an instructor and mentor to students in NMSU’s Geomatics/Surveying Engineering program, which he helped save from elimination.

During a February presentation to the Michigan Professional Land Surveyors Association in Traverse City, Acosta talked about the subsurface utility engineering that is one of CSTI’s specialties and shared the work NMSU is doing to increase the participation of women and minorities in surveying engineering, an industry that is currently comprised of about 80 percent white males.