United States v. Thompson, No. 17-4264 (6th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
In 2005-2006, Thompson was sued by employees and one business he hired to assist in locating a long-sunken ship and recovering its treasures. The district court entered a preliminary injunction instructing Thompson not to sell, encumber, transfer or diminish in value any gold coins he had in his possession. If the coins were not in Thompson’s possession, Thompson was to submit a declaration under oath describing the parties to whom the coins were transferred and any consideration. Thompson transferred the coins to a third-party trust and failed to provide the required information. The court scheduled a “show cause” hearing. When Thompson failed to appear, having absconded to Florida, an arrest warrant issued. Thompson, charged under 18 U.S.C. 401(3), entered into plea agreement, agreeing to assist in identifying and recovering assets. The court ordered Thompson to “submit to a debtor’s examination,” consistent with that agreement. Thompson appeared for the examination; the civil parties and receiver contended that Thompson refused to provide sufficient answers, then invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege. At a second court-ordered examination, Thompson appeared but refused to answer any questions. After a civil show-cause hearing combined with criminal-contempt sentencing, the court sentenced Thompson to two years of imprisonment for criminal contempt, held Thompson in civil contempt and ordered Thompson to “be incarcerated indefinitely until you comply.” After 18 months of incarceration for civil contempt, Thompson sought to terminate his civil-contempt sanctions, citing the recalcitrant-witness statute, 28 U.S.C. 1826(a), which limits confinement to 18 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Thompson’s motion. Because Thompson was required both to testify and to help recover assets by taking non-testimonial actions, section 1826 did not apply.