FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—All U.S. District Court Judge Dave Brannon wanted was proof for the record that the man standing in front of him was who he was purported to be: an infamous treasure hunter on the lam.
But instead of confirming his identity, Thomas G. Thompson rattled off a list of reasons why he can’t go back to Ohio, the state where he is being sued by former investors who say they haven’t gotten their money.
Thompson, 62, had been in hiding since 2012 and was captured by U.S. Marshals outside a Boca Raton Hilton on Tuesday. He made an appearance in court Thursday where he was briefly questioned by the judge.
Brannon said at Thompson’s identity hearing that he needed to confirm Thompson was the same man wanted in Ohio so the judge can start the extradition process. The judge asked Thompson for his attorney’s name, but Thompson was reluctant to say who he wanted to represent him.
When Thompson agreed to tell U.S. Marshals who to contact, Brannon rescheduled Thompson’s hearing to Feb. 4. Before court adjourned, however, Thompson made a plea to not be sent back to Ohio.
“I haven’t been out of Florida since 2005 because I’m sensitive to materials that are north,” he said, listing allergies to things such as fiberglass. “I just want you to know, it could be very fatal for me to go up there.”
Brannon tried to stop Thompson from divulging information to the court not pertinent to his identity hearing, but Thompson continued, listing multiple medical ailments and incoherently detailing his business ventures in Florida.
“I don’t believe you’re trained in the law, are you sir?” Brannon asked. “Then you need to think about what you say in court.”
Thompson made history in 1988 when he discovered the sunken SS Central America, known as the Ship of Gold, and the tons of the precious metal inside it. Thompson netted millions from the discovery, but the 161 investors who paid for him to find the ship said they never saw the proceeds, according to court records.
Thompson has been evading the law since August 2012, according to records. He was sued by two former investors of his company, Columbus Explorations, who gave him $12.7 million to find the SS Central America, a sidewheel steamer that went down in 1857 off the coast of South Carolina. The gold inside was mined during the California Gold Rush, and about 425 people died.
Federal marshals on Tuesday arrested Thompson on a civil contempt warrant from Columbus, Ohio, issued in August 2012, as well as on a criminal contempt warrant issued in spring 2013.
In his arrest warrant, U.S. Marshals detail the beginning of what would be a 2 1/2-year search for Thompson in Florida.
In late 2012, marshals first traveled to the mansion of Thompson’s girlfriend and associate, Alison Antekeier, in Vero Beach. A handyman who worked at the couple’s house told marshals the couple had been delinquent on rent, and when he entered the home to check on them, it appeared to be abandoned, according to the warrant.
Inside he found a book called “How to Be Invisible,” hundreds of microcassette tapes and thousands of dollars strapped to pipes and hidden in other places. On a wall in the home were sticky notes indicating specific court dates and deposition appointments, records show.
Marshals also found 12 active cell phones in the house, and determined that each number was given to different people with whom Thompson associated. Thompson would keep the phones off and then, every once in a while, turn the phone back on to record the messages on a tape recorder, according to the warrant.
Thompson told the court Thursday that his health has deteriorated in recent years and he suffers from many ailments, including abdominal issues and an overactive immune system. He repeatedly urged the judge to consider letting him stay in Florida.
Brannon ended the hearing by reminding Thompson he needed a lawyer, adding that what he says in court can be used against him.
“I’ve probably said too much,” Thompson said.
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