Treasure Hunter Tommy Thompson Given 2 Months to Find New Attorney to Bid for Jail Release

A federal judge on January 24 gave a former deep-sea treasure hunter two months to find a new attorney as he faces his sixth year in jail for refusing to reveal the location of 500 missing gold coins discovered in a shipwreck, according to the Associated Press.

Tommy Thompson, 69, was held in contempt of court since December 15, 2015, for refusing to share the whereabouts of the missing gold coins valued at roughly $2.5 million. He has been in prison ever since, the AP reported.

In attempts to wrap the case up, Federal Judge Algenon Marbley told Thompson during a virtual hearing he had until March 21 to find a new attorney to be present for future hearings. According to the AP, Thompson told Marbley he's having trouble finding secure lines of communication to talk with potential lawyers about his case.

Newsweek previously reported that Thompson's case started in 1988 after discovering the shipwreck of the S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold. The ship was carrying thousands of pounds of gold when it sank off the coast of South Carolina during a hurricane in 1857.

Thompson's research team recovered millions of dollars worth of gold on the ship, Reuters reported. Several legal requests were made to access the inventory reports of the discovered treasure, but Thompson never handed them over.

According to court documents, despite a court order, Thompson refused to cooperate with authorities who are searching for the lost coins. Thompson previously said the coins were handed over to a trust in Belize but didn't provide further information, the AP reported.

Thompson was supposed to attend a hearing about the missing gold coins in Ohio in 2012. He missed the court date and was arrested by U.S. marshalls in 2015. He later pleaded guilty in April the same year and was sentenced to two years in prison with a $250,000 fine, according to the AP.

The researcher's criminal sentence has been delayed until the issue of the missing gold coins has been resolved. However, Thompson claims he has already revealed everything he knows about the lost treasure.

"Your honor, I don't know if we've gone over this road before or not, but I don't know the whereabouts of the gold," Thompson said in a 2020 hearing, Newsweek reported. "I feel like I don't have the keys to my freedom."

In 2020, Newsweek reported that Marbley denied Thompson's request for a compassionate release citing the risk of getting COVID-19 while behind bars. Every day Thompson is behind bars, he's fined $1,000. For the six years he's been imprisoned, the total fees have accumulated to about $2.1 million.

Thompson faces additional roadblocks for his case as he said he continues to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, which affects his short-term memory.

"It's hard to explain the number of roadblocks," Thompson said according to the AP. "I don't rest on my laurels; I'm working all the time here. It's hard to communicate here."

tommy thompson treasure hunter mugshot
This undated file photo provided by the Delaware County Sheriff's Office in Delaware, Ohio, shows Tommy Thompson. The former deep-sea treasure hunter is about to mark his fifth year in jail for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of 500 missing gold coins found in the historic shipwreck of the S.S. Central America. Delaware County Sheriff's Office/Associated Press