Saturday, February 17, 2018
News Roundup

Verdict in Bobby Thompson fraud trial to be announced at 9 a.m. Thursday

CLEVELAND — It took the jury only three hours to decide Bobby Thompson's fate.

But he won't learn it until Thursday. The verdict wasn't announced Wednesday afternoon because a court reporter was unavailable and the defense attorney was picking up his son at day care. The public will learn the jury's decision Thursday at 9 a.m.

The announcement of the jury's speedy deliberations capped an eventful two days in the fraud trial in connection with the U.S. Navy Veterans Association charity that Thompson founded in Tampa.

Earlier in the day, Thompson's attorney declined to make a closing argument, surprising jurors and spectators. A day earlier he had announced Thompson would not take the stand, despite having said he would during opening statements.

So at 1:45 p.m., after 19 days of testimony, the jury began deliberating charges of fraud, money laundering and identity theft.

After dismissing the jury, Cuyahoga Court Judge Steven E. Gall had a final reprimand for the defendant, who has appeared in court the past two days with clothes and hair in disarray.

A week ago, Thompson also beat his head repeatedly against the steel bars and concrete wall in the court's holding cell reportedly over the way his trial was going. On Wednesday he still had a bright red spot on his forehead.

Noting that Thompson had conducted himself professionally through five weeks of trial, the judge criticized him for showing up recently with his shirt untucked and unbuttoned and his trademark pompadour hanging over his eyes.

"It appeared designed and calculated to gain sympathy with the jury or create error," the judge said.

Afterward, defense attorney Joseph Patituce said he disagreed with the judge's comments.

"No one bangs their head off the wall if something's not going on," he said.

He also said Thompson, 66, supported his decision not to make a closing argument.

By not saying a word in his client's defense, Patituce deprived the prosecution of coming back with an emotional rebuttal right before the case went to the jury. That was all part of his strategy, the defense lawyer said, adding, "I concluded we needed to let the jury just take this case and go."

Nonetheless, the state still had the last word, with prosecutor Brad Tammaro spending nearly two hours wrapping up his case.

Calling Navy Veterans a "charade," Tammaro said, Thompson "was the person who created the image of an organization, a picture on paper that was simply not true."

Tammaro then methodically reviewed evidence showing that by filing registrations in Ohio filled with falsehoods — including Thompson's name, which had been stolen from a man in Washington state — the defendant made it possible for Navy Veterans to collect more than $2 million from Ohio residents, then siphon money from charity accounts for his own use.

To counter defense statements that the IRS had approved Navy Vets' filings, Tammaro said, "The IRS made the mistake of trusting this individual told the truth, and they were wrong,"

In reviewing money laundering charges against Thompson, the prosecutor spoke of more than $2 million in ATM withdrawals and checks from Navy Vets' accounts by Thompson and two cohorts.

"Every single dime vanished," the prosecutor said.

Reviewing identity theft charges, the prosecutor reminded the jury that Thompson admitted his real name was John Donald Cody, a former Army intelligence officer who abandoned his Arizona law practice and vanished in 1985.

When he was apprehended in April 2012, the defendant was found with nearly $1 million in cash and a suitcase full of more than a dozen fake identities.

"There was no evidence that anybody gave him permission to use their names," Tammaro said.

Thompson faces nearly two dozen charges with a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years. Patituce, his court-appointed attorney, said he expects his client to file an appeal if convicted.

Thompson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, represented himself during most pre-trial preparations, only turning the case over to Patituce about a month before trial.

"I don't want to imply the court acted improperly, but the state had three years to prepare," said Patituce, who expects an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel. "I had 30 days and no accounting or forensic support. It was just me."

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