Man Overboard: The Ship of Gold in the Courts

Michelle Sullivan

Tommy Thompson and his companies have been mired in legal proceedings since the late '80s. Here's a snapshot of the four major cases.

Columbus-America Discovery Group v. The Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, S.S. Central America, et al.

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia

Thompson and his directors filed this suit in 1987 to gain salvage rights to the Central America. Once they hauled up the treasure, other parties, including Columbia University, claimed they had rights to the site. In addition, a group of 39 insurance companies claiming they had insured some of the gold argued they were owed a portion of the treasure. In 1990, the court awarded exclusive salvage rights to Columbus-America Discovery Group and later, in 1998, 92.5 percent of the recovered gold. The insurance companies were granted 7.5 percent of what had been recovered.

After lying dormant for more than a decade, the case was reopened in spring 2014 when a group representing Columbus-America Discovery Group argued that they retained the salvage rights. The court disagreed and ruled in July that Recovery Limited Partnership, now controlled by a court-appointed receiver, has the exclusive right to salvage the site. The receivership did just that in the summer, hiring a marine exploration company to recover the remaining gold.

The Dispatch Printing Co., et al. v. Recovery Limited Partnership, et al.

Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County

In 2005, the Dispatch Printing Co., which invested in the recovery, and Don Fanta, another investor, sued Thompson's companies claiming breach of contract and fiduciary duty and requesting records detailing the finances and operations of the project, a full accounting for the companies and an award of damages.

The Dispatch Printing Co., et al. v. Gilman D. Kirk, et al.

Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County

The publishing company and Fanta also sued the directors of Thompson's companies for breach of fiduciary duty. The lawsuit seeks information regarding the finances and operations of the recovery project, as well as damages.

Michael H. Williamson, et al. v. Recovery Limited Partnership, et al.

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio

Nine members of Thompson's recovery crew, including geophysicist Mike Williamson, have been pursuing Thompson and his companies in court since 2006, claiming they are owed a portion of the recovered gold. Because this case is similar to the cases brought forth in state court, all three were consolidated and moved to federal court, where cases dealing with maritime claims are handled.