Time may be running out for Bobby Thompson, who has been a fugitive from the law for more than a year.
The one-time Tampa resident, accused of raising nearly $100 million through a sham veterans charity, disappeared in 2010 just before he was indicted in Ohio on charges of fraud and money laundering.
Now it appears Thompson may be hiding in New Mexico, where the U.S. Marshals Service believes he has changed his physical appearance and adopted stolen identities to avoid prosecution.
The Marshals Service announced Tuesday that it is seeking the public's help to find Thompson, who ran his U.S. Navy Veterans Association out of a run-down duplex in Tampa. In a news release, the Marshals Service released two names adopted by Thompson and a series of pictures, dating from before his disappearance, showing him with various hairstyles and facial hair.
Pete Elliott, U.S. marshal for the northern district of Ohio, declined to say specifically why investigators have focused on New Mexico. His agency's news release noted that Thompson may have lived in that state and had "specific knowledge" of the Albuquerque area.
Elliott said Thompson's picture is now on digital billboards in Albuquerque. "We've dedicated a full squad to this and I feel very confident we will apprehend him," Elliott said. "I know he's been very slippery in the past, but people always leave behind some clues, and it's our job to tie those clues together."
Thompson started Navy Veterans in 2002 and built a charity that claimed to have headquarters in Washington and chapters nationwide, raising millions of dollars in donations.
In March 2010, however, a Times investigation revealed that, other than Thompson, none of its dozens of officers or directors existed and its offices were merely mail drops. The stories showed that Navy Veterans also provided few services for veterans while funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative politicians nationwide.
Ohio indicted Thompson and an associate, Blanca Contreras of Tampa, in August 2010. Contreras was sentenced to five years in prison a year later. Thompson has remained at large.
Though Ohio's criminal investigators have been working on the case for about a year and a half, they did not seek the U.S. Marshals' help until November. A spokesman for Ohio's attorney general declined to comment on the reason for the delay.
On Tuesday, authorities said the burly, bearded man known as "The Commander" has used several aliases. Among them: Ronnie Brittain and Elmer Dosier.
Brittain lives in New Mexico. He told the Tampa Bay Times that he was visited by six federal marshals Monday evening and was asked about Thompson. Brittain said he has never heard of or seen him.
Elmer Dosier, who once lived in New Mexico, was a Vietnam War veteran and former police officer who died in 1999. The Marshals Service has interviewed Dosier's son in Indiana.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-866-492-6833 or text keyword WANTED and the tip to 847411. Callers can remain anonymous and there is a potential cash reward, though Elliott declined to say how much.
Kris Hundley can be reached at email@example.com or (727)892-2996. John Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)226-3372.