Lawsuit involving Ohio treasure hunter to proceed
Written by AMANDA LEE MYERS, Associated Press   
Thursday, 03 October 2013 06:34

CINCINNATI (AP) — A federal appeals court's decision Wednesday will allow a trial to proceed in Ohio against the fugitive leader of an expedition that recovered millions of dollars in gold from a ship that sank off the North Carolina coast in 1857 in one of the worst maritime disasters in American history.

Nine men who helped shipwreck enthusiast Tommy Thompson recover gold bars and coins from the S.S. Central America in 1988 filed a lawsuit against him and his business entities in 2006 in federal court in Columbus, where the businesses were based and where he had a home.

The men, based in Oregon and Washington, produced and analyzed sonar readouts to help find the shipwreck and say they're entitled to about 2 percent of sale proceeds from the gold, or about $2.5 million to $3 million.

While paid for day-to-day labor, the sonar analysts say they were never given the 2 percent of profits they were promised in confidentiality agreements in exchange for keeping the expedition and the ship's location secret.

In a lengthy ruling on Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld a lower court's decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed against Thompson and his business entities, rejecting various arguments from their attorneys.

The decision allows the case to proceed to trial, with the 6th Circuit saying the only remaining issue for the court is to calculate the damages owed to the sonar analysts.

The lawsuit is one of several stemming from the treasure's discovery. Among the others is from dozens of investors — mostly in central Ohio — who paid $12.7 million to fund the expedition but saw no returns.

Thompson, described as a secretive Howard Hughes-like figure by an attorney on the case, has been a fugitive since August 2012 when a federal judge ordered his arrest after he didn't show up at a contempt-of-court hearing.

The 6th Circuit judges criticized Thompson's behavior in Wednesday's ruling, saying "his flagrant contempt may well serve as a basis for this court and the district court to deny him future access to judicial process, unless and until he turns himself in."

Michael Szolosi, the attorney who represents the nine sonar analysts, called the court's decision "an emphatic win" for his clients, one of whom has died as the court case dragged on.

Ira Kane, who was appointed as receiver over Thompson's companies after he fled, said he still needed to read through the complicated ruling before a decision will be made about whether to appeal, proceed to trial or consider a settlement.

The S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold, was in operation for four years during the California gold rush before it sank after sailing directly into a hurricane in September 1857; 425 people were killed and gold worth $1.2 million at the time went down with it.

The gold that Thompson and his crew found and hauled to the surface in 1988 sold for between $50 million and $60 million.


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