An Ohio judge has approved an agreement to sell the final glittering
treasure pulled from the 19th century shipwreck SS
Franklin County Judge Laurel Beatty-Blunt’s Nov. 30 decision will
set in motion the bulk sale of all coins, gold dust and gold ingots
found in a 2014 salvage mission to the so-called “Ship of Gold”
steamer that sunk off the Eastern Coast of South Carolina in 1857.
As part of a multi-faceted pact, the California Gold Marketing Group
LLC is purchasing the 2014 treasure for $30 million from Recovery
Limited Partnership and Columbus Exploration LLC, offshoots of the
companies that originally located the wreck in the late 1980s and then
recovered 3 tons of treasure.
Half of the $30 million will be paid to Odyssey Marine Exploration,
which mounted the 2014 salvage mission at the behest of Ira O. Kane,
the court-appointed receiver for Recovery Limited and Columbus Exploration.
The rest will be paid to the receivership and to the Dispatch
Printing Co., which loaned the receivership millions to pursue the
treasure a second time.
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By mid-January, California Gold will have possession of the 2014
find, which includes 3,100 gold coins, 100 pounds of gold dust, more
than 10,000 silver coins and 45 gold ingots.
“It’s a positive outcome from a very complicated situation,” said
Dwight Manley, managing partner of California Gold. “There were a lot
of moving parts getting to this point.”
The sales agreement brings closure to the second chapter of the
The first began in the 1980s when scientist Tommy Thompson convinced
161 people and companies, mostly from Ohio, to invest $12.7 million in
his scheme to find the
Central America. The side-wheel steamer
went down in a hurricane with a shipment from the San Francisco Mint
as well as the gold and silver from homebound California prospectors.
More than 400 passengers and crew drowned in a sinking that hurtled
the ship 8,000 feet deep into the Atlantic Ocean.
For years the ship was lost, until Thompson located it, staked a
claim and began recovery in the late 1980s with a then-revolutionary
remotely operated underwater vehicle. He and his crew brought up more
than 500 ingots and more than 7,500 gold coins, but then faced years
of court battles for the right to keep and sell the treasure,
estimated to be worth $100 million to $400 million. Finally, in 2000,
he sold his companies’ portion of the treasure to California Gold
Group for more than $50 million.
But the original investors received nothing, and Thompson faced more
lawsuits. He went on the lam in 2012 and Kane was appointed to operate
the companies and try to recoup some money for the investors.
Thompson was found hiding in Boca Raton, Florida, in early 2015 and
has been in jail since then. He pleaded guilty to criminal contempt
and was sentenced to two years in prison. He won’t serve this sentence
until he purges himself of an additional charge of civil contempt for
not revealing the whereabouts of 500 gold commemorative coins stamped
from melted gold from the Central America.
The Nov. 30 agreements are part of two Franklin County Common Pleas
Court cases that had been sealed from the public for 11 years before
Beatty-Blunt unsealed the cases on Oct. 23.
Thompson, who is now in a Michigan federal prison, watched the Nov.
30 proceedings on a video feed and said he was “happy for the
receiver” when asked if he had any comments.
Noting that more than a decade has passed since litigation was filed
against Thompson by investors, Kane said after the hearing that the
agreement “significantly reduces the time and cost to bring this [new]
treasure to market.” He said that “but for the settlement we’d be
looking at a number of years” — as well as extensive legal costs — to
market the 2014 treasure.
Under its agreement, California Gold will pay more than half of the
$30 million it owes immediately and the balance in monthly payments
over 12 months.
In addition, California Gold also will pay the receiver 5 percent of
the melt value of all the gold ingots, an amount Kane estimated could
be $200,000 or more.
In a separate agreement, Odyssey Marine and the receiver agreed to
drop pending litigation against each other and to terminate their
services agreement with each other.
Kane said he is “hopeful” that the original investors in Thompson’s
search-and-recovery mission — many who have died in the three decades
since — finally will see a return on their money. Besides the sale of
the gold and silver, Kane will be marketing numerous cultural heritage
items from the shipwreck, such as a leather saddlebag, gold jewelry
and a pipe, which are valued as a group at $1 million. He’ll also be
selling company intellectual property as well as the salvage claim for
Manley said the coins, ingots and dust will be curated next year by
geologist Bob Evans, one of the leaders of the original salvage
mission and the only original crewmember who returned to the shipwreck
with the Odyssey. Manley expects some of the gold coins could be on
the market by spring.
“The initial focus will be the gold coins coming to market,” he
said. “That’s the largest piece of the treasure as a group value-wise.”
He believes there may be “some very unusual, rare coins” among them,
but that won’t be known until they are curated. The coins include 710
Philadelphia Mint gold coins, 1,956 San Francisco Mint gold coins and
216 pioneer gold coins.
“Fleshing that out is exciting as a coin collector and also
important economically,” Manley said. He said the sale of the coins
would take several years.
Manley doesn’t plan to melt down any of the ingots as his company
did with some from the first recovery. He said he and his partners
expect to keep many of the ingots for themselves.
He’s also excited about the silver coins. He said they include 9,670
dimes, 646 quarter dollars and 381 half dollars, as well as more than
1,500 foreign coins. He said the foreign coins include an 1855 and an
1856 Australian Queen Elizabeth gold sovereign.
“They look like they were made yesterday,” he said.
Manley said the gold dust likely will be sold in small pinch sizes,
and any gold nuggets within the dust would be sold separately.