Who is Tommy Thompson? Treasure hunter refuses to reveal whereabouts of 500 coins of 'Ship of Gold', fined $1.8M
Thompson has spent more than 1,700 days in jail and is ordered to pay $1,000 daily fine, he owes nearly $1.8M in fines as he spends five years and counting in jail
A former Ohio treasure hunter is about to mark half a decade behind bars after refusing to disclose the whereabouts of the 500 coins missing from a historic shipwreck.
Research scientist Tommy Thompson has been jailed in the federal prison since 2015 for contempt of court over the lost loot. He was living in Florida in hiding for three years before the US Marshals tracked him to Boca Raton and arrested him.
“I don’t know the whereabouts of the gold,” Thompson insisted in October, during his latest hearing. “I feel like I don’t have the keys to my freedom," he added. Thompson's legal battle started after his 1988 discovery of the SS Central America, which sank off South Carolina in 1857, with thousands of pounds of precious metals aboard. A group of 161 investors paid Thompson $12.7M to find the so-called "Ship of Gold", and they later sued him, claiming they never saw any returns. In 2012, the federal judge interrogated him to disclose the location of the coins, which are estimated to be worth $2-4M. After this, he fled to Florida, where he resided with a woman friend until 2015 when he got tracked down by the US marshals at a Hilton hotel in West Boca Raton and got arrested.
The 68-year-old pleaded guilty for not appearing in his court hearing and was jailed for two years. He was fined a whopping $250,000. As part of the plea deal, he has to answer interrogatories about the missing loot and must also “assist” interested parties in finding the coins. On December 15, 2015, during his hearing in the court, he said several times that he doesn't know the coins' whereabouts. Federal Judge Algenon Marbley found him in contempt of court and ordered him to be jailed and to pay a $1,000 daily fine until he answers the questions correctly and discloses the location of the coins.
Thompson, who has spent more than 1,700 days in jail, owes nearly $1.8M in fines and counting. He has also claimed that he is suffering from a rare form of chronic fatigue syndrome due to which he is facing issues with his short-term memory. But prosecutors claimed that there is no connection between his ailment and his refusal to tell the location of the coins.
The legal team of the investors who paid him to find the gold coins has said that Thompson is responsible for his incarceration. “He would be out of prison by now if he had simply complied with his plea agreement and cooperated in locating missing assets when he was supposed to,” attorney Steven Tigges said in a court filing.