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Thompson Remains in Jail While Court OKs Sale of SS Central America Gold

SS Central America - "Ship of Gold"

By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
After a quick morning hearing on Thursday, November 30, Franklin County, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Laurel Beatty-Blunt signed an order approving the sale of $30 million worth of gold, gold coins and other items recovered from the site of the 1857 shipwreck of SS Central America. The approximately 16,000 objects were recovered in 2014 by Odyssey Marine Exploration but have been held up by legal wrangling involving former Battelle engineer and Central America shipwreck discoverer Tommy Thompson.

The plan to sell the gold was conceived by attorney Ira Owen Kane, the court-appointed receiver representing Thompson’s companies Columbus Exploration LLC and Recovery Limited Partnership. Kane has served as receiver for the two companies since 2013; he filed the request on October 24.

The details of the sale, which will close on January 15, 2018, had been previously worked out. California Gold Marketing Group, a company managed by Dwight Manley of ANA library fame (who was also involved in the recovery and marketing of gold coins from the Brother Jonathan shipwreck), has agreed to pay about $17 million up front and pay the remaining $13 million in monthly payments over the course of a year. According to Ohio state law, all creditors must be paid off first, and so Thompson’s investors will be paid only with the money left over after this has been done. But regardless of the actual amount they receive, this will constitute the first time any of the investors have seen a return on their investment in the over 30-year-long saga. Odyssey Marine will be paid $15 million, which covers the entire amount the company is demanding. The Dispatch Printing Company, the former producer of the Columbus, Ohio newspaper The Columbus Dispatch, will receive $1.75 million out of California Gold’s initial payment and a further $5.75 million out of the future monthly payments.

Per an agreement with California Gold Marketing Group to pay five percent of the melt value of the sale of all the gold ingots recovered from the shipwreck, attorney Kane will receive $250,000 out of the first $17 million. After the Dispatch Printing Company receives the $5.75 million, any and all proceeds remaining from the sale will go to the receiver. No parties to the case objected to the plan.

Thompson himself interjected remotely from a federal prison in Michigan, where he is currently incarcerated on civil contempt charges for not cooperating with these very same investors in their attempts to recover 500 gold coins produced from melted-down gold recovered in 1988 from the Central America site (nothing recovered in 1988 features as a part of the sale to California Gold). This gold is said to be worth about $4 million.

United States District Judge Algenon L. Marbley periodically holds hearings to inquire about Thompson’s desire to cooperate with the court in the location of the missing gold coins. And since his capture and arrest in Florida in April of 2015, Thompson has refused to reveal any information – despite the fact that he and his attorneys reached a plea deal with the court to reduce his sentence that depends on Thompson doing just that. The sentence of two years in federal prison was for criminal contempt charges arising from his not appearing at his initial 2012 hearing.

Marbley has held Thompson in prison since December 2015. Thompson’s attorney declares a prison sentence of more than 18 months on civil contempt charges is illegal according to federal law.

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Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker has served as the Assistant Editor of CoinWeek.com since 2015. Along with co-author Charles Morgan, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the monthly column "Market Whimsy" for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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  1. So let me get this straight. Tommy Thompson built the technology to find and retrieve 3 tons of gold, then is forced to spend the next 20 years in court. Finally, he decides he’s sick of it and just wants to be left alone. So he takes 40 pounds of gold, and leaves a crap load sitting on the ocean floor for whoever wants it. Of course they’ll have to use his sub to get it. Which they have. Why would anyone want to have him locked up? If it weren’t for him, there would be no treasure at all! The judge is obviously buddies with the Columbus dispatch. (Who doesn’t miss a chance to paint Thompson as a scumbag and a pirate!) Tommy Thompson is a freaking HERO! Insurance companies and our justice system are the real scumbag pirates. They turned a passionate genius into a sick old man(no offence Tommy)rotting in prison. Way to reward the man who found our national treasure! Anybody who thinks he deserves this needs to check their heads, and remember that you can’t believe everything you read. Gotta consider the source. Free Tommy Thompson you assholes!

  2. You are absolutely correct!!, Truthseeker. He changed subsea exploration forever, created new technologies that are not fully understood or utilized to this day, did all the labor, paid back the original investment, yet “he’s the dickhead”. And the world wonders why explorers opt not to report findings? I get it. He told investors they would make money and they didn’t. But isn’t that the risk with any investment? Especially when the government gets involved? If I ever find a dollar, IRS can hold their breath till hell freezes SOLID before they hear from me.


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