Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fugitive Thompson Busted - USS Central America, Ship of Gold

A deep-sea treasure hunter who vanished during a court fight over his $50 million haul of gold bars and coins eluded capture by hiding in a two-room hotel suite under a fake name, paying for everything in cash and keeping a low-profile, authorities said Thursday.

When Tommy Thompson and his long-time companion did leave the hotel room, usually alone and her more than him, they would use a combination of buses, taxis and walking around to shake anyone who might be tailing them. "That's all part of the whole tradecraft — trying to fly under the radar of law enforcement," said Barry Golden of the U.S. Marshals Service in Miami.
After his disappearance four years later, authorities found more evidence at a Vero Beach mansion he rented between 2006 and 2012, paying the monthly $3,000 rent with cash and putting the utilities in the landlord's name. Among the clues: A book called How to Live Your Life Invisible describing how to get by on a cash-only basis; bank wraps for $10,000; metal pipes that authorities believed were used to store money underground; and 12 active cellphones, each used for specific attorneys or family members.

But there was a trail.
Florida authorities started focusing on Thompson's companion and long-time assistant, Alison Anteiker. Agents spotted Anteiker after fanning out over an area of Palm Beach County. They tailed her for the next seven hours. Eventually Anteiker unknowingly led them to a Hilton Hotel in suburban Boca Raton area surrounded by golf courses, country clubs and gated communities.

Authorities believe Thompson and Anteiker were living there for up to two years. The room was under one of three fake names being used by Anteiker.
In 1988, Thompson made history when he found the S.S. Central America, known as the Ship of Gold, which sank in a hurricane more than 300 km off the South Carolina coast in September 1857. Four hundred and twenty-five people drowned and a large amount of California gold were lost, contributing to an economic panic.

More than 2,900 gold coins and 45 gold ingots have been recovered from the shipwrecked S.S. Central America since an archaeological excavation began in mid-April, Odyssey Marine Exploration, the company contracted to dive to the site, revealed on a report published Tuesday.

The S.S. Central America sank off the Carolina coast in 1857, at the height of the California Gold Rush, when it sailed into a hurricane. It had departed, days earlier, from Panama, with roughly 580 passengers who were carrying with them an unknown amount of gold. Estimates for the total gold cargo range between three and 21 tons of gold.

In March, Odyssey Marine Exploration was awarded an exclusive contract to recover the remaining treasure from the shipwreck. The publicly traded, Tampa, Florida–based company is slated to receive 80 percent of recovery proceeds up to a fixed fee and 45 percent thereafter.

In June, Chief U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ordered an expert to supervise the U.S. Marshals’ handling of the artifacts pulled up from the wreck. The deep-ocean shipwreck exploration company has published four reports since it took its first dive to the S.S. Central America four months ago, including lists of the number and type of coins found.

One of the SS Central America's paddlewheels.

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