Hunt Is On for Fugitive Treasure-Hunter's Loot
Investors want bounty worth millions they say Tommy Thompson got on 'Ship of Gold'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2015 1:48 PM CST
In this November 1989 file photo, Tommy Thompson holds a $50 pioneer gold piece retrieved earlier in 1989 from the wreck of the gold ship SS Central America.   (AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Lon Horwedel)

(Newser) – Deep-sea treasure hunter Tommy Thompson made headlines in 1988 when he found the legendary "Ship of Gold" (aka the USS Central America) shipwreck off the coast of South Carolina, which sank to the ocean floor with thousands of pounds of gold in 1857. Now he's in the news again after his arrest in Florida last week, with authorities saying he was on the lam for two years to avoid facing lawsuits from investors and sonar analysts who want their promised share of whatever booty he pulled up, the AP reports. The state of Ohio is trying to extradite Thompson after he failed to show up for a court appearance there; a Florida judge has postponed his next hearing to next week. As for those aforementioned investors and business associates, they want to know where Thompson's money is—after all, he used just cash for two years in order to remain undetected, and US Marshals say they found almost $500,000 in cash in his hotel room—and they've filed subpoenas seeking documents from his hotel stay.

"If he has millions of dollars of cash hidden somewhere, if he has 500 gold coins hidden somewhere, those are assets he needs to answer questions about," says an attorney for the sonar analysts who sued for profits they say they were cheated out of. The recovered gold was reportedly sold for $50 million to a gold marketing firm in 2000, though Thompson's lawyers and supporters say he used most of the sale funds to pay off loans and legal fees, but what Florida authorities say they found in 2012 at a mansion he used to rent doesn't look good: bank wraps for $10,000 amounts, a dozen cellphones (each one designated for a different attorney or relative), and pipes ostensibly used to hide money underground. The attorney says there is evidence Thompson has gold coins worth at least $2 million. Thompson, who is fighting extradition, has at least three storage units that have not yet been searched, WPTV reports. (What might lie at the bottom of a South Carolina river: millions of Civil War munitions.)