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Treasure hunter Tommy Thomspon faking memory problems to hide coins, judge rules

In this November 1989 file photo, Tommy Thompson holds a $50 pioneer gold piece retrieved earlier in 1989 from the wreck of the gold ship SS Central America.

AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Lon Horwedel

COLUMBUS, Ohio - An ex-deep sea treasure hunter is faking memory problems and intentionally deceiving authorities about the location of missing coins minted from gold from an 1857 shipwreck, a federal judge has ruled.

Tommy Thompson has been held in contempt of court since mid-December last year, when Judge Algenon Marbley found he violated a plea deal by refusing to respond. Thompson also was ordered to pay $1,000 a day until he cooperates.

Thompson also received a two-year prison sentence in December and a $250,000 fine for failing to appear before a judge three years ago to answer similar questions.

Thompson has said he told everything he knew during depositions last fall and argues he couldn’t provide more complete answers, in part, because he suffers from a neurological disorder. He also said he could refresh his memory by reviewing documents in 75 boxes held by the U.S. Marshals Service, but that he hadn’t been allowed access to that information, according to court records.

Psychiatric evaluations and results of a September court hearing show Thompson isn’t suffering from a condition that would prevent him from complying with his plea deal, Marbley said in a Thursday ruling.

A test by a court-ordered psychiatrist turned up minor memory problems, the psychiatrist said in a sealed document, part of which Marbley quoted in his order.

Thompson “routinely made references to things that demonstrated his retention of information from minutes and hours earlier, he remembered things from one day to the next, he recalled aspects of his various cases with great specificity, and he recalled information about his career and business adventures dating back decades,” according to the evaluation.

A message was left Monday with Thompson’s attorney. Marbley has scheduled an update hearing for Wednesday.

The coins in question were minted from gold taken from the S.S. America, which sank in a hurricane off South Carolina in 1857.

Thompson previously said, without providing details, that the coins were turned over to a trust in Belize. The government, which believes the coins are worth millions of dollars, has doubts Thompson’s explanation.

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This undated file photo provided by the Delaware County Sheriffs Office shows Tommy Thompson. 

AP

A fugitive from Ohio since 2012, Thompson was apprehended in January 2015 along with his longtime female companion at a hotel where he was living near Boca Raton, Florida.

Thompson pleaded guilty in April of last year to contempt of court for failing to appear before a federal judge in 2012. Part of his plea deal requires him to answer questions in closed-door sessions about the whereabouts of the gold coins.

On Sept. 12, 2008, Thompson was first arrested at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station, carrying nine identification cards - eight of which police said were fake, according to an incident report. He was charged with possession of drugs without a prescription with the intent to sell, holding a fake ID, false personation and resisting an officer without violence. Court records show prosecutors later dropped all the counts, but it’s not immediately clear why.

After his disappearance four years later, authorities found more evidence in their hunt for him 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.