At first glance, the neon palm tree sign may not look like much.
The sign stood in front of the former Paradise Inn hotel, a tiki-style building built in 1962 in Anchorage, Alaska. It was once a popular tourist spot but later became a hotbed of drug trafficking and prostitution, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Bernadette Wilson apparently saw its potential, when her garbage disposal company, Denali Disposal, was hired to clean up the government-owned property. A federal worker told her to get rid of the tree, but she kept it instead, the Daily News reported.
An attorney for Wilson said the tree was infested with pigeons, both live and dead, when she took it, the newspaper reported. Wilson says she wants to clean it up.
“It’s kind of cool. We’ll do something with it. Refurbish it,” she said.
But federal authorities say the order to remove the sign was a mistake, according to court documents filed by Alaska’s U.S. Attorney. The employee didn’t have the “authority” to dispose of the sign, and therefore Wilson wasn’t entitled to dispose of it, authorities said.
Authorities say Wilson initially agreed to allow the government to take back the sign, but now she’s refusing.
Her lawyer, Brian Heady, said the federal employee never suggested that she should leave the sign behind or hold it for the government, according to court documents.
Federal officials are asking a judge to issue a warrant for the government to seize the palm tree from Wilson, the motion said.
Prosecutors argue the sign has “fairly significant value” that will be determined by market forces, the Daily News said. But Judge Ralph Beistline, who’s expected to settle the dispute, doesn’t understand why both parties are fighting over a sign, the newspaper reported.
“So, inside this non-functioning neon sign, is there gold?” he asked at a recent hearing. “There’s got to be something that someone’s not telling me.”