WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - U.S. Marshals seized a hoard of cash from the alleged hotel-room hideout of Tommy Thompson, a treasure hunter who authorities say has been stealthily dodging lawsuits for years over his discovery of an 1857 shipwreck.
An agent from the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force testified last week that his team searched Thompson's room at the Boca Raton Hilton and seized two bundles of cash totaling $340,000, among other assets. The room also contained paperwork concerning expatriation and asylum, the agent testified.
Thompson was arrested on Jan. 28, after federal authorities tracked him down to the Florida hotel. He was charged with failing to appear in Ohio civil court, where his former associates are fighting him for a share of the riches pulled from the S.S. Central America, a shipwreck that Thompson found in 1988.
According to U.S. Marshals, Thompson has maintained a residence in Florida for years along with his assistant Alison Antekeier. He rented out a mansion, used fake names and obtained a cache of cell phones to keep himself under the radar, the marshals claim. At times, he and Antekeier lived off stacks of "sweaty" cash made moist from being hidden underground, the marshals claim.
Thompson was "one of the most intelligent fugitives ever sought ... and he had vast financial resources at his disposal," the U.S. Marshals Service said in a press release announcing the arrest.
In Federal Court, Thompson, sitting without counsel, challenged officials' attempts to send him to Ohio to face his purported creditors. Citing an unspecified immune system disorder, Thompson claimed he was in a delicate state. He said that being moved to a federal prison would pose a danger to his health and prevent him from achieving "homeostasis."
The magistrate, Dave Lee Brannon, told Thompson that his health issues will not prevent the preliminary elements of the criminal case from moving forward.
"This matter needs to be resolved," Brannon said before rescheduling Thompson's extradition hearing.
Thompson is being held at the Palm Beach County detention center, a jail worker told Courthouse News.
If and when he is transported to Ohio, he will be back in the midst of the long-drawn legal wrangling spawned by his discovery of the S.S. Central America, an ocean liner that sank in an 1857 hurricane, and took more than 400 people to a watery grave.
The ship reportedly sat undisturbed on the seafloor, more than a mile deep, until Thompson found it during a high-tech search expedition in the late 1980s. It was said to be holding one of the largest reserves of lost undersea bullion in modern history.
Court filings show that after Thompson began pulling gold from the wreck, various insurers came out of the woodwork and sought reimbursement for insurance payouts delivered some 130 years earlier in connection with the ship's sinking.
Other parties wanted a piece of the pie too, including a band of Capuchin monks who supposedly had been granted the rights to the sunken treasure, according to the court filings.
Thompson's attorneys battled through two admiralty trials, and he was eventually awarded the vast majority of the treasure in 1993.
But the lawsuits kept coming.