COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former deep-sea treasure hunter says he’s too ill to explain to a federal judge why he shouldn’t face new penalties for failing to answer questions about 500 missing gold coins.
Jailed explorer Tommy Thompson needs two to three months to compile information to show Judge Algenon Marbley before he can respond to questions about the gold, Thompson’s attorney said in a Monday court filing.
Attorney Karl Schneider filed a letter and an affidavit by Thompson’s doctor under seal, meaning only the judge can review them. The documents relate to "certain serious medical issues" suffered by Thompson, Schneider said in the filing.
Thompson, 63, went missing three years ago amid demands that he appear in court to answer similar questions. He and his longtime female companion were apprehended in January at a hotel where he was living near Boca Raton, Florida.
After his arrest, Thompson argued unsuccessfully he shouldn’t be returned to Ohio because of an "extreme medical situation." At the time, Thompson said he had various illnesses, including encephalitis and allergies that would be exacerbated by returning north.
Thompson has been accused of cheating investors since he discovered the S.S. America, known as the Ship of Gold, in 1988. The gold rush-era ship sank in a hurricane off South Carolina in 1857 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 pleaded guilty in April to contempt of court for failing to appear before a federal judge in 2012. Part of his plea deal requires him to answer questions in closed-door sessions about the whereabouts of the gold coins.
The first of those hearings was Oct. 19. A federal prosecutor chastised Thompson afterward, calling his answers evasive and concerning, and scheduled another hearing for Oct. 26. That hearing was delayed.
Thompson was also criticized by investors for "feigned ignorance, convenient lack of recollection, and then outright refusal to answer any more questions," according to a court filing.
Complicating matters, Thompson is on his third defence attorney after firing the previous two this fall without explanation.
Thompson faces two years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 stemming from his April plea agreement. He could also be kept behind bars until he answers the latest questions about the coins and other assets.
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