Lawyer for ex-treasure hunter Tommy Thompson says client seriously ill

Gold from the sunken ship off the Carolina coast.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The lawyer for an ex-Ohio treasure hunter facing new penalties for failing to discuss the whereabouts of 500 missing gold coins says his client is seriously ill and wants a hearing delayed for weeks.

Attorney Karl Schneider submitted a doctor's affidavit under seal Monday to a federal judge in an attempt to push back a hearing ordered Tuesday afternoon for Tommy Thompson.

Schneider argues the delay should be granted since the 63-year-old Thompson will remain in jail throughout.

Judge Algenon Marbley ordered the Tuesday hearing after Thompson once again refused to answer questions about the coins as required by a plea deal.

Thompson pleaded guilty to contempt of court in April for fleeing rather than answering similar questions three years ago.

Thompson went missing three years ago amid demands that he appear in court to answer similar questions. He and his longtime female companion were apprehended in January at a hotel where he was living near Boca Raton, Florida.

Thompson has faced accusations of cheating investors since he discovered the S.S. America, known as the Ship of Gold, in 1988. The gold rush-era ship sank in a hurricane off South Carolina in 1857 with thousands of pounds of gold aboard, contributing to an economic panic.

The 161 investors who paid Thompson $12.7 million to find the ship never saw any proceeds. Two sued - a now-deceased investment firm president and the company that once published The Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

Thompson pleaded guilty in April 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.

The first of those hearings was Oct. 19. A federal prosecutor chastised Thompson afterward, calling his answers evasive and concerning, and scheduled another hearing for Oct. 26. That hearing was delayed.

Thompson was also criticized by investors for "feigned ignorance, convenient lack of recollection, and then outright refusal to answer any more questions," according to a court filing.

Complicating matters, Thompson is on his third defense attorney after firing the previous two this fall without explanation. A message seeking comment was left with his latest lawyer Monday.

Thompson faces two years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 stemming from his April plea agreement. He could also be kept behind bars until he answers the latest questions about the coins and other assets.

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