Trea­sure hunter pleads guilty to contempt of court


A deep-sea trea­sure hunter who spent years as a fugi­tive af­ter re­fus­ing to tes­tify about gold he dis­cov­ered in a his­toric ship­wreck pleaded guilty Wed­nes­day to contempt of court.

Tommy Thomp­son, 62, pleaded guilty to the crim­i­nal contempt charge in fed­eral court wear­ing an or­ange pri­son jump­suit and hand­cuffs.

Thomp­son went miss­ing three years ago amid de­mands he ap­pear in court. He and his long­time fe­male com­pan­ion, Alison An­tekeier, were ap­pre­hended in Jan­uary at a ho­tel where he was living near Boca Ra­ton, Florida.

Thomp­son has faced ac­cu­sa­tions of cheat­ing in­vestors since he dis­cov­ered the S.S. Amer­ica, known as the Ship of Gold, in 1988. The gol­drush era ship sank in a hur­ri­cane off South Carolina in 1857 with thou­sands of kilo­grams of gold aboard, con­tribut­ing to an eco­nomic panic.

Thomp­son, then an oceanic en­gi­neer at Bat­telle Me­mo­rial In­sti­tute in Colum­bus, and his crew brought up thou­sands of gold bars and coins. He would later de­scribe the trea­sure as “oth­er­worldly in its splen­dor,” but much of it was later sold to a gold mar­ket­ing group in 2000 for about US$50 mil­lion.

The 161 in­vestors who paid Thomp­son US$12.7 mil­lion to find the ship never saw the pro­ceeds. Two sued — a now-de­ceased in­vest­ment firm pres­i­dent and the com­pany that pub­lishes The Colum­bus Dis­patch news­pa­per.

The plea agree­ment calls for Thomp­son to for­feit the US$425,380 seized when he and An­tekeier were ar­rested in Florida, as­sist in the 2012 civil case re­lat­ing to the trea­sure by help­ing to iden­tify and re­cover lost as­sets, and iden­tify oth- ers who may have helped him while he was on the run.

The gov­ern­ment agreed not to charge Thomp­son with any other of­fenses aris­ing from the case if he com­plies with the plea agree­ment.

The deal also es­tab­lishes a max­i­mum pri­son sen­tence of two years and a max­i­mum fine of US$250,000. Typ­i­cally, the max­i­mum sen­tence for crim­i­nal contempt is life in pri­son.

Thomp­son’s at­tor­ney Ben Dus­ing said in a state­ment he hopes the plea agree­ment is a first step to­ward end­ing a decade of law­suits.

The agree­ment also asks that the court give spe­cial em­pha­sis to Thomp­son’s rare med­i­cal con­di­tion when sen­tenc­ing him. Dus­ing said Thomp­son suf­fers from a se­ri­ous im­mune sys­tem con­di­tion re­quir­ing spe­cial­ized treat­ment.

Thomp­son will re­main in cus­tody in Delaware County jail un­til his sen­tenc­ing, which hasn’t been set yet.

An­tekeier was also charged with crim­i­nal contempt last week. She pleaded guilty along­side Thomp­son Wed­nes­day to that count and agreed to for­feit the cash seized when ar­rested and as­sist in the pending civil case. Her plea agree­ment in­cludes a max­i­mum pri­son sen­tence of one year. Judge Algenon Mar­b­ley ap­proved her re­lease from jail pending sen­tenc­ing.


In this Novem­ber, 1989 file photo, Tommy Thomp­son holds a US$50 pi­o­neer gold piece re­trieved ear­lier in 1989 from the wreck of the gold ship Cen­tral Amer­ica.

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