COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge on Monday ordered a former deep-sea treasure hunter to stay in jail until he answers questions about the location of 500 missing gold coins.
Defendant Tommy Thompson has been held in contempt of court since mid-December when Judge Algenon Marbley found Thompson violated a plea deal by refusing to respond.
Marbley said Monday that he hoped Thompson would have an "epiphany" about the coins and other assets connected to the recovery of the SS Central America, which sank off the coast of South Carolina in 1857.
Thompson, wearing an orange jail uniform and sitting in a wheelchair, said he never saw or touched the coins, minted from gold taken from the shipwreck. He said he told everything he knew during depositions last fall.
"I said what I know about them," Thompson told Marbley. "There can't be an epiphany."
"I'm going to take that as a 'no,'" Marbley said. He ordered Thompson to stay in jail for another 60 days. Thompson is also being fined $1,000 a day until he cooperates.
"As long as you are content to be a master of misdirection and deceit to the court, I am content to let you sit," Marbley said.
Thompson's attorney, Karl Schneider, told the judge discussions are underway with the government to resolve the impasse. He wouldn't comment further outside court.
Federal prosecutor Doug Squires said the government doesn't believe Thompson has met the terms of his plea deal, which requires him to answer questions about the coins and assets.
Thompson also received a two-year prison sentence in December and a $250,000 fine for failing to appear before a judge three years ago to answer similar questions.
Thompson pleaded guilty in April to contempt of court in that case. Part of his plea deal required him to answer questions in closed-door sessions about the whereabouts of the gold coins, which the government says are worth millions.
The first of those hearings was Oct. 19. A federal prosecutor called Thompson's answers evasive and concerning. Thompson refused to cooperate at the December hearing.
That two-year sentence — including credit for nearly a year already spent behind bars — will be delayed until the issue of the gold coins is resolved.
A fugitive from Ohio since 2012, Thompson was apprehended in January 2015 along with his longtime female companion at a hotel where he was living near Boca Raton, Florida.
Thompson has been accused of cheating investors since he discovered the SS Central America, known as the Ship of Gold, in 1988. The Gold Rush-era ship sank in a hurricane with thousands of pounds of gold aboard, contributing to an economic panic.
The 161 investors who paid Thompson $12.7 million to find the ship never saw any proceeds. Two sued — a now-deceased investment firm president and the company that once published The Columbus Dispatch newspaper.
Thompson, 63, told the judge he suffers from a rare form of chronic fatigue syndrome that has created problems with short-term memory.
Thompson has previously said without providing details that the coins were turned over to a trust in Belize. The government doubts this.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins
This story has been corrected to show the name of the ship is the SS Central America, not the S.S. America.