Extradition likely for fugitive treasure hunter Tommy Thompson and his assistant

Jan. 27 arrest ends two-year search by law enforcement authorities
By , Coin World
Published : 01/28/15
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SS Central America treasure salvor Thomas G. "Tommy" Thompson and his longtime assistant, Alison Louise Antekeier, will likely be extradited to Ohio from Florida once they complete criminal court proceedings pursuant to federal arrest warrants served by U.S. Marshals.

The pair, who had been fugitives from the federal arrest warrants since 2012, was arrested Jan. 27 at the Hilton Boca Raton Suites in Boca Raton. 

READ: Tommy Thompson, man who discovered SS Central America shipwreck, arrested in Florida

Brian Babtist, a deputy U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus, said Jan. 28 the couple was arrested by the Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force of the U.S. Marshals Service for the Southern District of Ohio. Babtist said authorities in Ohio would seek extradition of Thompson and Antekeier to answer federal charges of failure to appear in court in Ohio once their federal court proceedings in Florida were complete.

The couple are both being held on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service in the main Palm Beach County detention facility in West Palm Beach. 

VIDEO: Watch how Tommy Thompson's hometown is covering his arrest

Thompson, 62, who spearheaded the discovery in 1987 of the 1857 shipwreck of the SS Central America, as well as its salvage between 1988 and 1991, and Antekeier, 47, were wanted for failing to appear in a civil suit in federal court.

The U.S. Marshals Service for the Southern District of Ohio worked in conjunction with the U.S. marshals in West Palm Beach, Fla., to conduct an exhaustive investigation that culminated in the arrest of Thompson and Antekeier at a local hotel. The couple offered no resistance at the time of the arrest and readily admitted to being the targets of the extensive investigation, according to Babtist.

“The United States Marshals Service, in the Southern District of Ohio, along with the three Judicial Districts that comprise the state of Florida, as well as many others, worked tirelessly on this case. They utilized all available resources and were able to accomplish what many thought would be nearly impossible,” said Peter Tobin, U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Ohio.

“Thompson was one of the most intelligent fugitives ever sought by the U.S. Marshals and he had vast financial resources at his disposal. This investigation and these arrests reflect great credit upon the deputies of the U.S. Marshals Service and our agency as a whole,” concluded Tobin.  

The multi-year investigation spanned the globe, but ended not far from the last documented sighting of the couple in Vero Beach, Fla.

United States District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr., chief judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus, issued a warrant on Aug. 13, 2012, for Thompson's arrest after Thompson failed to appear at various hearings for an ongoing civil case involving the treasure wreck that has been pending since 2006. That suit focuses on Thompson's alleged failure to reimburse investors who financed the salvage operations.

At that Aug. 13, 2012, hearing, attorneys who did appear on Thompson’s behalf stated they were hired by Thompson’s assistant, Alison Antekeier. Judge Sargus then directed that Antekeier appear to explain Thompson's absence.

On Nov. 7, 2012, when she failed to appear after Judge Sargus' order, a similar arrest warrant was issued for Antekeier. The U.S. Marshals Service investigation, as well as various court documents and hearings, led investigators to believe Thompson and Antekeier have been on the run together ever since, according to Babtist.

From the ocean floor

In 1985, Thompson, an ocean engineer with the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, founded the Columbus-America Discovery Group. More than 160 investors, most from Columbus, Ohio, provided Thompson with $10 million in funding. Thompson proceeded to research and search for the Central America shipwreck. 

The treasure salvors pinpointed the ship’s bell in 1986 some 8,500 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. It would be another year before salvors for CADG, from the vessel RV Arctic Discoverer, located the shipwreck, in July 1987. 

Salvors representing CADG found the main portion of the treasure the weekend of Sept. 9 and 10, 1987, with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Many of the coins and ingots retrieved bore incrustations of rust, limestone and other minerals formed over the decades from biological processes.

The bulk of the treasure salvage operations were conducted between 1988 and 1991.

The salvaged treasure from the SS Central America languished for years in warehouses in Virginia while attorneys for the salvors and the insurance underwriters from the 19th century or their successors battled over ownership rights. 

In 1993, after years of litigation, a federal admiralty court in Norfolk, Va., awarded CADG and Thompson 92.4 percent of the treasure, with the remaining 7.6 percent of the treasure going to the insurers. Litigation continued, however, as both sides sought to appeal the split of the treasure and to delay (sometimes successfully) the other party from selling the treasure it held. 

The salvors and the insurers sold their portions of the treasure separately. 

Dwight Manley, a coin-expert-turned-sports-agent and eventually the managing partner of the investment consortium California Gold Marketing Group, put together a deal after more than a year and a half of negotiations to buy the salvors’ portion of the treasure.

Negotiations for the record-setting deal, placed at over $100 million, began after a casual conversation between Manley and coin dealer Larry Goldberg of Beverly Hills during a round of golf at the Big Canyon Country Club in July 1998 in Newport Beach. The marketing group and Columbus-America completed their deal Dec. 8, 1999. The deal was the largest single numismatic transaction in numismatic history.

The insurers first attempted to sell some of their portion of the treasure in an auction conducted in New York City by the auction house Sotheby’s, also on Dec. 8, 1999, but had to stop the sale because of a court injunction brought by Thompson. The two parties would continue to litigate the matter for several months before all legal action ended.

The first items sold were some of the Professional Coin Grading Service-certified 1857-S Coronet double eagles, along with some of the gold ingots, by the California Gold Marketing Group (CGMG). A network of authorized dealers was established by CGMG through which most of the coins and ingots were sold beginning March 1, 2000. 

Part of the insurance companies’ portion finally went on Sotheby’s auction block June 20 and 21, 2000. The auction offered federal gold coins, pioneer gold coins, gold assay bars and gold nuggets, and gave buyers the first chance at something other than the 1857-S Coronet double eagles recovered from the Central America. The 250 lots brought more than $5.56 million. 

The auction house Christie’s offered another portion, billed as the finest quality coins and ingots and unique pieces from the treasure find, in a Dec. 14 auction. That 169-lot auction brought more than $2.21 million.

An account of the history, sinking and recovery of the SS Central America appears in two 1998 books, Thompson's America’s Lost Treasure and Gary Kinder’s Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. Additional details and treasure marketing efforts appear in Q. David Bowers’ 2002 work, California Gold Rush History

Treasure salvage operations resumed at the Central America wreck site in April 2014 by Odyssey Marine Exploration under a contract approved by a court appointed receiver of Thompson's companies. Details can be found here.

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