Authorities are searching for Tommy Thompson, left, and Alison Antekeier.
COLUMBUS, OHIO - A Franklin County judge has appointed a receiver to take over the companies of salvager Tommy Thompson and has directed the receiver to bring up more treasure from the SS Central America shipwreck if that’s possible.
Thompson and his crew recovered several tons of gold from the shipwreck in the late 1980s using $12.7 million from investors, most of them from central Ohio. Although the gold was sold for an estimated $52 million in 2000, investors received nothing.
That sparked lawsuits, including the eight-year legal fight that Common Pleas Judge Patrick E. Sheeran has presided over. Thompson and a group of investors are on one side, and two investors — The Dispatch Printing Company, which owns The Dispatch, and the late Donald Fanta — are on the other.
Fanta and Dispatch Printing sued in 2005, arguing that Thompson’s Columbus Exploration and Recovery Limited companies were dysfunctional and had not issued financial reports for years. Plans to recover more treasure from the shipwreck, which could have provided returns for investors, never materialized, the lawsuit said, and Thompson had become elusive and secretive.
Fanta and Dispatch Printing asked Sheeran in 2009 to appoint a receiver to handle the companies’ affairs. Thompson’s lawyers countered that the Dispatch Printing lawsuit endangered the recovery of the remaining tons of gold from the Central America, which went down in 1857.
On Thursday, Sheeran issued his receivership decision, saying the companies are in “great disarray,” are insolvent and “are without functional management.” He appointed local attorney and businessman Ira Kane as the receiver for both companies and ordered him to provide a written plan for the receivership within 90 days. That should include the feasibility of trying to recover additional Central America treasure, the order says.
Putting the companies in receivership, Sheeran wrote, “presents the opportunity for genuine hope and growth, the opportunity for the rebirth of a once very successful enterprise.”
Sheeran wrote that experts such as Robert Evans, the chief scientist for Thompson’s search and recovery efforts, and shipwreck salvager David Mearns testified they would help with additional recovery efforts.
Thompson himself has been a fugitive since a U.S. District judge ordered his arrest in August after the salvager did not show up at a federal contempt-of-court hearing. Seamen who worked for him on the Central America expedition are suing him in that case, alleging they are entitled to a small percentage of the treasure.
U.S. marshals are searching for Thompson and for his assistant, Alison Antekeier, who did not appear in federal court as ordered in November. Marshals have learned that the couple lived in a Vero Beach, Fla., mansion for six years before they disappeared in August.
Steven W. Tigges, an attorney for Dispatch Printing, said yesterday that he hopes the move will provide investors with some return on their investments. Dispatch Printing is advancing money to pay the receiver.
Christopher L. Trolinger, the attorney for Thompson’s companies, said the appointment of a receiver was disappointing.
“Obviously, the company has fought hard against the appointment of a receiver in court based on the belief that this course of action is potentially very detrimental,” he wrote in an email. “ However, the company is reviewing, researching and analyzing the decision to determine what course of action, if any, will be taken in the near future.”
Courtesy; The Columbus Dispatch
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