The following is the text of a news release issued April 9 by Benjamin G. Dusing, the attorney for SS Central America treasure hunter Thomas G. "Tommy" Thompson. Thompson was arrested in Florida in January by federal law enforcement officials after two years as a fugitive:
Shipwreck Discoverer Pleads Guilty to Criminal Contempt; Hopes to Focus Anew on More Deep Ocean Recoveries
“We hope this plea agreement today is a first step toward ending a decade of lawsuits and refocusing efforts on finding and recovering more deep ocean shipwrecks like the SS Central America,” said Benjamin Dusing, attorney for Thomas G. “Tommy” Thompson, ocean explorer, marine engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur.
As part of the plea agreement between Douglas W. Squires, assistant US Attorney, Thompson, and Dusing, Thompson agreed to forfeit $425,380 seized when he was arrested, to help identify and recover assets and answer questions under oath about those assets, and to identify others who may have helped him in the crime of contempt.
If Thompson complies with terms of the plea agreement, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio agrees not to charge him with any other offense arising out of the case. The agreement carries a maximum prison term of two years and a maximum fine of $250,000.
“Legal disputes over the first shipwreck Thompson’s team discovered, the SS Central America, have clouded Columbus-America’s bright beginning,” Dusing said. “First it was 39 insurance companies who claimed they had insured the cargo of the SS Central America,” he said. Several later cases were filed by two of more than 200 investors, and by members of a sonar team who helped in the search, he added.
In the mid-1980s, Thompson formed Columbus-America Discovery Group to locate, explore and recover the sunken treasure of the SS Central America, lost in an 1857 hurricane off the Carolina coast with the loss of 425 lives and a commercial shipment of some three tons of gold.
“Tommy Thompson succeeded because he did things no one had ever done before,” Dusing said. “He developed and adapted tools, techniques, and processes to locate and recover the SS Central America from a depth of 8,500 feet.”
Dusing cited several examples to illustrate Thompson’s entrepreneurial creativity.
1. Thompson engaged historical researchers to dig through 130-year-old newspapers to build a wall-sized Data Correlation Matrix of useful information.
2. He contracted with a theoretical mathematician to use the historical data to develop a probability search map of the Atlantic Ocean.
3. And he used that map to direct the use of wide-swath sonar over 1400 square miles of ocean to locate a badly degraded wooden hull shipwreck.
Though these methods were not new, no one had ever creatively adapted historical research, or mathematic search theory, or side-scan sonar in this manner before. This approach led to Columbus-America receiving an Institute of Management Sciences award.
Tommy then redirected Columbus-America toward engineering. They invented and built a revolutionary deep submergence vehicle-Nemo, to be the eyes, ears and arms of the scientists and engineers who operated it from a surface vessel 8,500 feet above.
Columbus-America continually adapted and improved Nemo, equipping it to perform both heavy excavation and extremely delicate tasks. Using the submersible technology they invented, Tommy and Columbus-America established the first “working presence” in the deep ocean, and carefully excavated the SS Central America while preserving its historical resources. Thompson has a continuing concern about protecting the site of the SS Central America.
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