5 years and counting: Ex-treasure hunter nonetheless caught in jail

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former deep-sea treasure hunter is about to mark his fifth yr in jail for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of 500 lacking cash produced from gold present in an historic shipwreck.

Analysis scientist Tommy Thompson is not incarcerated for breaking the legislation. As a substitute, he is being held in contempt of courtroom for an unusually lengthy stretch — properly previous the conventional most restrict of an 18-month internment in instances of witnesses refusing to cooperate.


However nothing is common about Thompson’s case, which dates to his discovery of the S.S. Central America, referred to as the Ship of Gold, in 1988. The gold rush-era ship sank in a hurricane off South Carolina in 1857 with hundreds of kilos of gold aboard, contributing to an financial panic.

Regardless of an traders lawsuit and a federal courtroom order, Thompson nonetheless will not cooperate with authorities looking for these cash, in accordance with courtroom data, federal prosecutors and the decide who discovered Thompson in contempt.

“He creates a patent for a submarine, however he can’t keep in mind the place he put the loot,” federal Choose Algenon Marbley stated throughout a 2017 listening to.


Thompson’s authorized troubles stem from the 161 traders who paid Thompson $12.7 million to seek out the ship, by no means noticed any proceeds and eventually sued.

Again in 2012, a special federal decide ordered Thompson to look in courtroom to reveal the cash’ whereabouts. As a substitute, Thompson fled to Florida the place he lived along with his longtime feminine companion at a resort the place he was residing close to Boca Raton. U.S. marshals tracked him down and arrested him in early 2015.

Thompson pleaded responsible for his failure to look and was sentenced to 2 years in jail and a $250,000 fantastic. Thompson’s prison sentence has been delayed till the difficulty of the gold cash is resolved.


That April 2015 plea deal required Thompson to reply questions in closed-door periods in regards to the whereabouts of the cash, which the federal government says are price $2 million to $four million. Importantly, he should additionally “help” events find the cash underneath that deal.

Thompson refused a number of occasions, and on Dec. 15, 2015, Marbley discovered Thompson in contempt of courtroom and ordered him to remain in jail — and pay a $1,000 day by day fantastic — till he responds.

In late October of this yr, Thompson appeared by video for his newest listening to.


“Mr. Thompson, are you able to reply the seminal query on this case as to the whereabouts of the gold?” Marbley stated.

“Your honor, I don’t know if we’ve gone over this highway earlier than or not, however I don’t know the whereabouts of the gold,” Thompson responded. “I really feel like I don’t have the keys to my freedom.”

And with that, Thompson settled again into his present state of affairs: housed in a federal jail in Milan, Michigan, he’s now spent greater than 1,700 days in jail and owes practically $1.eight million in fines — and counting. Thompson’s legal professional declined to remark.


Thompson, 68, has stated he suffers from a uncommon type of continual fatigue syndrome that has created issues with short-term reminiscence. He’s beforehand stated, with out offering particulars, that the cash had been turned over to a belief in Belize.

The federal government contends Thompson is refusing to cooperate and that there’s no connection between his ailment and his means to elucidate the place the cash are.

A federal legislation addresses people like Thompson, referred to as “recalcitrant witnesses.” The legislation holds that 18 months is usually the restrict for jail time for contempt of courtroom orders. However a federal appeals courtroom final yr rejected Thompson’s argument that that legislation applies to him.


Thompson hasn’t simply refused to reply questions, the courtroom dominated: He is additionally violated the requirement that he “help” the events by refusing to execute a restricted energy of legal professional to permit that Belizean belief to be examined, as required underneath his plea deal.

“The order isn’t meant to solely search info, it’s to hunt info for the needs of recovering these distinctive property,” stated legislation professor and authorized analyst Andrew Geronimo, director of Case Western College’s First Modification Clinic.

Earlier this yr, Marbley denied Thompson’s request for launch over considerations he is in danger for contracting the coronavirus behind bars. Marbley stated Thompson did not current correct proof for his danger degree, and likewise famous he stays a flight danger.


The traders nonetheless in search of their cash say Thompson has nobody however himself guilty for his incarceration.

“He can be out of jail by now if he had merely complied along with his plea settlement and cooperated in finding lacking property when he was imagined to,” legal professional Steven Tigges stated in a March courtroom submitting.



This story has been corrected to point out that the S.S. Central America sank in 1857, not the S.S. America.