Elusive Salvager of Gold Coins Ordered Before Judge

August 13, 2012 – A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio has ordered an elusive shipwreck salvager to appear before him at 9am today or face arrest.

US district judge Edmund A. Sargus ruled last week that Tommy Thompson has not followed a court order to reveal the whereabouts of millions of dollars worth of gold coins.

The ruling is part of a 6-year-old federal lawsuit against Thompson initiated by nine people hired by him to assist in the finding of the SS Central America, a steamer that sank in 1857 with tons of gold in its hold. Thompson and his company, Columbus America Discovery Group, located the shipwreck in the late 1980s and brought up part of its treasure.

Since that time, the gold brought up has been mired in lawsuits. Thompson originally sought notoriety for the find but has stayed out of pubic sight in recent years.

The federal case states crewmembers were guaranteed part of the treasure’s proceeds and did not receive it. Thompson has fought the claims through his attorneys, saying crewmembers were paid for their work and are not owed more compensation. He has also argued that the expedition and the subsequent lawsuits have been so costly that no profits have accrued from the sale of the gold.

In a federal hearing in July, attorneys for the crewmembers introduced evidence that Thompson received 500 gold coins worth between $1 million and $2.5 million in 2007 from Columbus Exploration, one of his companies. The coins were restrikes, or commemorative coins minted from gold bars found in the wreck. Attorneys representing the crewmembers told the court that Thompson also received $250,000 from a “termination trust.”

Sargust prohibited Thompson from selling the coins after the hearing and ordered him to inform the court as to the whereabouts of the termination-trust money. Thompson didn’t attend that hearing, but responded that the coins had been placed in a family trust through Orion Corporate and Trust Services, a company that sets up offshore accounts in Belize.

Sargus found that information insufficient and ordered Thompson to appear in today’s hearing.

Sargus has found reason to criticize Thompson in the past. In 2009, Sargus ruled that Thompson was “willfully contemptuous” of the court’s orders and fined him $234,982, which Thompson paid.

Thompson is due to appear in Sargus’s court at 9am today and may face arrest if he does not appear.

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