Off and on for years now we've covered the story of the discovery of the S.S. Central America shipwreck, the "Ship of Gold" laden with a huge shipment of gold coins and bullion from California which sank in 1857. The leader of the expedition, Tommy Thompson, has been hard to find, and the expedition's investors and workers are still seeking what they say is their fair share of the treasure,
A trial is scheduled in Federal court late next month that could untangle some of the mystery. Here are excerpts from an article in today's Columbus Dispatch. Below are images of Bob Evans and Tommy Thompson from the article. Bob's an E-Sylum reader and occasional contributor.
The proposal seemed preposterous: Tommy Thompson, an engineer and shipwreck-enthusiast, said he could find a steamer that had sunk in 1857 off the Carolina coast with 21 tons of gold in its hold.
Wealthy central Ohio men and women listened, and one by one anteed up money so Thompson's expedition could move forward. The chance that Thompson would find the ship was one in a million, they knew. On the other hand, he was so confident, so persuasive, so sure he could find it.
Still, perhaps no one was more surprised than those 161 investors when Thompson actually found the SS Central America in 1988 - 8,000 feet down - and eventually brought up a treasure-trove of gold coins and bars worth up to $400 million.
But as difficult as the search-and-recovery expedition was, unraveling who is entitled to the riches has been even more difficult. Twenty-three years later, investors have not seen a cent of profit, and crew members who claim they are owed part of the proceeds haven't received that, either.
A trial is scheduled in federal court late next month that could untangle some of the secrecy that has always surrounded the "gold ship."
In 1989, the outlook for investors was rosy. News stories quoted one expedition lawyer as saying investors could get $5 to $340 on the dollar. The original 161 investors contributed $12.7million to Recovery Limited, and a second group of 90 investors put up $9million for future exploration in 1990-91 under the name Columbus Exploration. Thompson was in charge of both companies.
Under the partnership, Thompson and other expedition leaders would get 40percent of the proceeds, and investors would get the remainder.
But lawsuits by companies that had insured the Central America were costly and lengthy, draining money from the company. In the late 1990s, a federal admiralty court in Norfolk, Va., awarded the insurance companies 7.8percent of the proceeds and Thompson's company the rest.
That allowed Thompson to sell the gold to California Gold Group for $52million in 2000, according to court testimony.
Where did the money go? Tigges said investors have not been given an accounting. Michael R. Szolosi, attorney for the technicians, said Thompson has never provided a list of the sale's proceeds.
Thompson's attorney, Richard Robol, said in a court proceeding on Feb. 4 that no money has been paid out to investors but that "the plan is ultimately to make payments."
Robol said that Thompson lives and works mostly in Florida, developing innovative techniques to explore the deep ocean for shipwrecks.
At least one investor, Columbus insurance broker Donald E. Garlikov, believes investors won't be paid unless the rest of the treasure can be brought up from the wreck. He believes that all the money made from the original recovered gold has been spent to repay the expedition's costs, for ongoing lawsuits and for payments to the insurance companies.
He said pending lawsuits are keeping Thompson from raising the money he needs to recover the rest of the gold, which some estimates put at 18 tons.
"My support for him has not changed," said Garlikov, who invested $300,000 originally and put up collateral at Thompson's request in the early 2000s when insurance companies tried to obtain a greater share of the proceeds.
Garlikov says Thompson and his crew are "honest, straight people" and not the "crooks" some have painted them.
Well there's some news - I wasn't aware that there was still a large amount of unrecovered treasure from the wreck. 18 tons???
This will be an interesting trial - look for more information to dribble out to the general and numismatic press.
To read the complete article, see:
Even recovered, ship's gold remains mystery
Wayne Homren, Editor
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