COLUMBUS, Ohio – 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 in Columbus.
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 gold-rush era ship sank in a hurricane off South Carolina in 1857 with thousands of pounds of gold aboard.
Thompson, then an oceanic engineer at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, and his crew brought up thousands of bars and coins, much of them later sold to a gold marketing group in 2000 for about $50 million.
The 161 investors who paid Thompson $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 agreement included terms of Thompson’s co-operation with both the government and other “interested parties in connection with the matter,” Dusing said last week.
Thompson’s attorney Ben Dusing said in a statement he hopes the plea agreement is a first step toward ending a decade of lawsuits.
Antekeier had also been charged with criminal contempt last week. Her attorney Dennis McNamara said she has also agreed in a plea agreement to admit to the charge.
Thompson had been in custody in Ohio for several weeks following his extradition from Florida. U.S. marshals in Ohio and Florida worked for more than two years to track down Thompson before his arrest, and said he had been planning to disappear for some time.
Police say he had eight fake identification cards during a 2008 arrest at a Florida gas station. After his disappearance four years later, authorities found evidence at the Vero Beach mansion he rented between 2006 and 2012, where he paid rent in cash and put the utilities in the landlord’s name.
Inside the mansion were pre-paid disposable cellphones and bank wraps for $10,000, along with a book called “How to Live Your Life Invisible.”