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March 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The “Ship of Gold” Treasure Hunter Captured In Florida

from the March, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After being accused of cheating his investors out of their share of one of the richest hauls in U.S. history -- $50 million in gold bars and coins from a 19th-century shipwreck -- and spending more than two years on the lam, Tommy Thompson was captured by Federal marshals last month at a Hilton hotel in West Boca Raton, using cash to stay under the radar. The U.S. Marshals Service called him "one of the most intelligent fugitives ever sought" by the agency.

Thompson, 62, made history in 1988 when he discovered the sunken SS Central America, also known as the "Ship of Gold." The side-wheel steamer went down in a hurricane about 200 miles off South Carolina in 1857; 425 people drowned and tons of gold from the California Gold Rush was lost. In a modern-day technological feat, Thompson and his crew brought up thousands of bars and coins, and in 2000, he sold much of them to a gold marketing group for about $50 million. But the 161 investors who paid Thompson $12.7 million to find the ship never saw the proceeds. Two of them sued -- one was the company that publishes the Columbus Dispatch newspaper in Ohio, and had invested about $1 million.

A warrant was issued in Columbus in 2012 after Thompson failed to show up for a hearing on the lawsuit. Thompson vanished from his mansion in Vero Beach, FL, where a search found prepaid disposable cellphones and bank wraps for $10,000 in cash, along with a book titled How to Live Your Life Invisible, according to court records. One marked page was titled, "Live your life on a cash-only basis."

Thompson was arrested on January 28, along with his longtime companion, Alison Antekeier. The pair had been paying cash for a room at the Hilton, rented under a fake name used by Antekeier. They had no vehicles registered in their names, and Antekeier used buses and taxis to get around. The couple made initial court appearances in West Palm Beach, but authorities will seek to return Thompson to Ohio.

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