(Reuters) – A former fugitive treasure hunter and his girlfriend who were captured in January in Florida after evading authorities for years pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal contempt in U.S. District Court in Ohio, prosecutors said.
Thomas “Tommy” Thompson, 62, and Alison Antekeier, 47, also agreed to forfeit $425,380 in cash seized from them when they were caught, prosecutors said.
Thompson, accused by members of his team of failing to pay them after recovering a fortune in gold from a 19th century shipwreck, skipped an August 2012 U.S. District Court hearing to account for the location of gold coins and some funds.
An arrest warrant was issued for Antekeier, his then assistant and now girlfriend, when she failed to appear as a witness in the civil case in November 2012, prosecutors said.
Authorities did not track them down until late January when they were found at a Hilton Hotel in Florida where they had been living under assumed names and paying for their living expenses with cash. They were later extradited to Ohio.
“Thompson and Antekeier were very sophisticated in avoiding capture and had access to nearly unlimited funds, enabling them to stay completely off the radar for years,” U.S. Marshal Peter Tobin said in a statement.
More than 400 people drowned when the SS Central America, carrying as much as 21 tons of gold from California mines, sank in 1857 off the coast of South Carolina.
Thompson’s company, Columbus Exploration, confirmed in 1988 that it had found the ship and subsequently brought up gold coins and bars worth millions.
Under the plea agreements, Thompson could be sentenced to up to two years in prison, one year of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, and Antekeier to a year in prison, a year of supervised release and a $100,000 fine.
Thompson and Antekeier also agreed to help authorities identify anyone who assisted them while they were fugitives and to help identify assets in the civil case.
Sentencing dates have not been set.
(Editing by Eric Beech)
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