WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A deep-sea treasure hunter was ordered Wednesday to remain behind bars in Florida while his extradition process is delayed and his former investors press for details on what happened to millions of dollars in gold he found in a historic shipwreck.
As he did twice last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon postponed a hearing to confirm the identity of Tommy Thompson and discuss his extradition to Ohio, because the 62-year-old defendant still hadn't formally hired an attorney licensed to represent him in federal court. Thompson again repeatedly told the judge of his complicated medical issues, and the judge repeatedly cut him off.
"Your health issue is in no way relevant to whether you're wanted in Ohio or not," Brannon said.
An attorney did appear in court on Thompson's behalf but said she had not yet received clearance to defend him and had not yet had time to familiarize herself with the case. Meantime, Thompson's longtime companion, Alison Antekeier, was denied bond and ordered held awaiting a decision on her own extradition. Brannon said even though Antekeier only faces a civil charge, she was a flight risk.
His decision to deny bond for Antekeier came after a U.S. Marshals Service officer who tracked down the couple last week testified about what he found in their possession: information about seeking asylum in foreign countries, more than $420,000 in cash and storage units around South Florida held under different names.
"They were using different identities and using disguises," Officer Christopher Crotty testified.
Thompson made history in 1988 when he found the S.S. Central America, known as the Ship of Gold, which sank in a hurricane about 200 miles off the South Carolina coast in September 1857, claiming 425 lives. Thousands of pounds of California gold went down with the vessel — so much gold that it contributed to an economic panic.
Thompson and Antekeier were arrested Jan. 27 at the hotel where they were living near Boca Raton. Less than 48 hours later, investors and sonar analysts who sued Thompson about a decade ago for their share of the treasure filed subpoenas in federal court, seeking any documents from the hotel that may show how Thompson has been living a cash-only lifestyle for so long.
"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," said Mike Szolosi, a Columbus, Ohio, attorney representing nine sonar analysts who sued Thompson in 2006, arguing that they'd been cheated out of 2 percent of profits from gold recovered from the shipwreck, plus years of interest.
That lawsuit is still pending, as is another filed by an Ohio newspaper company that never saw returns after investing about $1 million to help fund Thompson's dream to find the ship.
Much of the gold that Thompson recovered was sold to a gold marketing group in 2000 for about $50 million. Thompson's attorneys and supporters have said the treasure hunter didn't steal anything, and that most of the sale proceeds went toward repaying loans and legal fees spanning decades.
Szolosi said there's ample evidence that Thompson has 500 commemorative coins made from gold bars recovered from the shipwreck and worth at least an estimated $2 million.
Thompson must go through extradition in Florida before he's brought to Ohio, where he will have to answer to the criminal arrest warrant in federal court, and eventually, to the two lawsuits by the investor and sonar analysts.
Myers reported from Washington.