In Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean saga, the titular pirates make off with a fortune in gold coins, only to learn that the treasure is cursed. For the treasure hunters who found the S.S. Central America, the “Ship of Gold” that sank in 1857, some 160 miles off South Carolina’s coast in 1988, the booty they recovered has been only slightly less star-crossed.
A treasure worth tens of millions of dollars quickly became ensnared in litigation. The venture’s backers mostly parried a lawsuit by the insurers who paid out damages in the 19th century, only to later cross swords with the mission’s captain, Tommy Thompson, who absconded with some 500 gold coins and spent years on the lam before being apprehended in Florida in 2015.
Thompson went to prison for refusing to tell his investors where the coins were hidden. His attorney, Richard Robol, was sanctioned by a federal judge for failing to provide a complete inventory of the riches recovered.
Robol surrendered his license to practice law in Ohio in 2019, but had been fighting to keep his Virginia license, calling it a “source of honor and pride to him.” The Virginia State Bar was unmoved, suspending Robol for four years. On Oct. 9 it denied a motion for reconsideration after Thompson said that Robol’s role in the scheme had been limited.
The investors, 161 of whom sunk nearly $13 million into the venture, received their first return on their investment in 2018, nearly 30 years after the ship was discovered, when a second round of treasure recovered from the shipwreck was sold for more than $50 million. But while the Pirates of the Caribbean were cursed to live forever, many of Thompson’s backers were no longer around to collect their share.