A deep-sea treasure hunter who spent years as a fugitive agreed Thursday to return to Ohio to face the investors he's accused of bilking out of millions of dollars in gold.
Appearing in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida, Tommy Thompson, 62, waived hearings to confirm his identity and discuss his extradition. A judge in Ohio will handle the criminal contempt charge filed against Thompson after he went missing in the midst of demands he appear in court.
Thompson's decision not to fight extradition returns him to the center of the long-running civil cases stemming from his historic 1988 underwater find of the S.S. Central America.
"It is not the crime of the century," said Aaron Cohen, the attorney who appeared on Thompson's behalf. "You basically have a man that's never been arrested before and is basically having a civil dispute with investors over money."
In three prior appearances in federal court here, Thompson has repeatedly said that returning to Ohio would further aggravate his failing health. He made no mention of those issues Thursday, simply giving short answers to U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon.
Cohen said he expected his client would be transferred to Ohio within 10 days.
Thompson has faced accusations of cheating investors nearly since he discovered the S.S. Central America, known as the Ship of Gold, which sank in a hurricane off South Carolina in 1857 with thousands of pounds of gold aboard. He went missing in 2012 and was arrested Jan. 27 at a hotel where he was living near Boca Raton.