WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A treasure hunter locked in a legal battle over one of the greatest undersea hauls in American history appeared in federal court Thursday, saying he has an "extreme medical situation."
The U.S. Marshals Service captured former fugitive Tommy Thompson at a Hilton hotel Tuesday in Boca Raton. The capture was announced Wednesday by Brian Babtist, a senior inspector in the agency's office in Columbus, Ohio, where a federal civil arrest warrant was issued for him in 2012 for failing to show up at a court hearing. A criminal contempt warrant was unsealed Wednesday.
Thompson had been on the lam for two years, accused of cheating investors out of their share of $50 million in gold bars and coins that he recovered from a 19th century shipwreck.
During a brief hearing in West Palm Beach, Thompson answered a judge's questions and suggested that he will fight extradition to Ohio. Thompson said he has various illnesses, including encephalitis and allergies that would be exacerbated by returning north.
Thompson made history in 1988 when he found the sunken S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold. In what was a technological feat at the time, Thompson and his crew brought up thousands of gold bars and coins from the shipwreck. Much of that was 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 returns from the sale. Two of them sued: a now-deceased investment firm president and the Dispatch Printing Co., which publishes The Columbus Dispatch newspaper and had invested about $1 million.
That legal battle is ongoing. Thompson went into seclusion in 2006, moving into a mansion called Gracewood in Vero Beach, Florida. Six years later, after the arrest warrant was issued, Thompson vanished.
Thompson was arrested along with his longtime companion, Alison Antekeier. The two had been staying in a two-person suite at the Hilton for two years, Babtist said.
The hotel is in an upscale suburban area surrounded by golf courses, country clubs and gated communities. It's less than 10 miles from the beach, and it has a pool and a running track.
Babtist said Thompson and Antekeier had no vehicles registered in their names and that Antekeier used public buses and taxis to move around Palm Beach County.
In one of the worst shipping disasters in American history, the S.S. Central America sank in a monster hurricane about 200 miles off the South Carolina coast in September 1857. Four hundred and twenty-five people drowned and thousands of pounds of California gold were lost, contributing to an economic panic.
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