Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Bobby Thompson sentenced to 28 years in Navy Veterans charity scam

Ohio's case against Bobby Thompson came to a close Monday with a judge in Cleveland handing a 28-year sentence to the man convicted of running a nationwide charity scam from an Ybor City duplex.

As a special punishment, the judge ordered that the mastermind behind the fraudulent U.S. Navy Veterans Association spend each Veterans Day in solitary confinement for the duration of his prison term.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, comes of other states' investigations into Thompson, whose charity raised more than $100 million from donors nationwide. But on Monday, the Florida Attorney General's Office said it would not pursue any charges.

In November, an Ohio jury found Thompson, 66, guilty of racketeering, money laundering and identity theft for the charity scam first brought to light by a Tampa Bay Times investigation in 2010.

During a six-week trial, prosecutors called more than 40 witnesses, including the charity's former attorney, who testified that the operation was nothing but a facade, with non-existent directors and mail drops for offices. Bank records showed donations were diverted for Thompson's personal use, with little assistance going to veterans.

Prosecutors also provided evidence that Thompson stole dozens of identities, including the one he used while running Navy Veterans from 2002 through mid 2010. He is really a Harvard-trained lawyer and former Army military intelligence officer named John Donald Cody.

As Cody, he faces fraud charges pending since 1984 in U.S. District Court in Virginia. Those charges stem from allegations that he stole nearly $100,000 from a client's estate and opened bank accounts in false names.

And several states, including Florida, initiated investigations into Thompson's role with Navy Veterans soon after the Times' series in 2010. Those investigations were dropped after he became a fugitive. U.S. marshals from Ohio apprehended him in Portland, Ore., nearly two years later with nearly $1 million cash and a suitcase full of stolen identities.

A spokesman for Florida's agriculture and consumer services department said it turned its initial investigation into Navy Veterans over to federal authorities. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa did not respond by late afternoon Monday.

The Florida Attorney General's Office said it considers the matter closed.

"We applaud the Ohio Attorney General's conviction of John Donald Cody, a.k.a. Bobby Thompson, which will keep him in prison into his 90s and imposes a fine of more than $6 million," said Whitney Ray, spokesman for Attorney General Pam Bondi. "We were pleased to work with the Ohio Attorney General and the feds to convict Cody, and in light of his conviction . . . we do not intend to pursue any further action."

At Monday's hearing, Thompson slumped in his chair as his sentence was read. Though he did not take the stand to testify during trial, in court filings, he said Navy Veterans was a CIA-funded operation to promote American military interests. Photos showed Thompson shaking hands with President George W. Bush and other major political figures while he was heading Navy Veterans.

Far from expressing remorse, Thompson complained Monday about alleged abusive treatment by jailers while locked up during the trial. During the final days of the proceedings, Thompson banged his head repeatedly against a holding cell wall, raising a welt on his forehead. The judge said court psychiatric personnel found no indication that Thompson suffered from a mental disorder.

His defense lawyer said he expects Thompson will file an appeal.

Judge Steven Gall said the sentence, which carries a minimum mandatory 10-year term, reflected the length, extent and amount of Thompson's charity "charade."

Referring to the impact of Thompson's ruse, Gall said, "Everyone's afraid to give."

In addition to the prison time, the judge ordered Thompson to pay a $6.3 million fine. Of the nearly $1 million seized when Thompson was arrested, about $330,000 will be used for prosecution costs. The rest will be distributed to legitimate veterans' charities.

There may be more coming as well.

Just a week ago, Thompson's former landlady in Portland discovered another cache of money Thompson squirreled away while he was on the run.

Stuffed in the wheel wells of a suitcase the fugitive left behind was more than $10,000 cash.

It is being returned to Ohio, where a civil judge will determine its disposition.

Celia Moore, the landlady whose honesty was praised by public officials on Monday, said she hopes it, too, will go toward veterans' causes.

Information from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and wire stories was used in this report. Kris Hundley can be reached at [email protected]

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