CLEVELAND — A former fugitive charged in a $100 million multistate fraud under the guise of helping Navy veterans went on trial Monday after losing a bid to subpoena U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and other leading Ohio politicians.
A judge in Cleveland rejected the defense's renewed request for the subpoenas, an effort to show the defendant's political donations were legal.
The defendant calls himself Bobby Thompson, but authorities have identified him as former lawyer and military intelligence officer John Donald Cody.
Thompson, 67, is charged with defrauding people who donated to a reputed charity for Navy veterans, the United States Navy Veterans Association based in Tampa.
The issue came to light after the Tampa Bay Times published stories in March 2010 on the Navy Veterans Association, a nonprofit organization formed in Tampa and granted tax-exempt status in 2002. The group said it has nearly 66,000 members and raises $22.4 million annually nationwide.
But the Times investigation revealed that its officers, directors and auditors were nowhere to be found, its addresses were either rented mailboxes or nonexistent places, and its charitable gifts were mostly undisclosed and unverifiable.
The alleged fraud spanned 41 states, including up to $2 million in Ohio. Authorities said little, if any, of the money collected by the charity was used to benefit veterans.
The defendant showered politicians, many of them Republicans, with political donations.
His attorney, Joseph Patituce, said subpoenas for testimony by Boehner, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, two DeWine predecessors and other leading Ohio political figures were needed to prove the charity's political contributions were legal.
But Brad Tammaro, an assistant attorney general handling the trial, said where the money went was unrelated to the charges of money laundering and theft.
Patituce hinted at a defense focused on the CIA and government secrets, but Tammaro said that if "by some fantasy" there was such government involvement, it did not exonerate the defendant.
Patituce said he didn't want to tip the defense strategy but said it would involve the CIA and a secretive operation decades ago in Arizona.
The judge indicated both sides had tried to resolve the case before trial, but when questioned by the judge, Patituce said nothing had developed.
Thompson was dressed in a suit and tie and passed notes to his attorney during final motions. Jury selection began afterward.
Patituce said he needed more time to prepare and cited the 20,000 documents which must be reviewed. The judge said the trial would move ahead.
His attorney said any fraud involved solicitors, not his client.
Authorities said the defendant used his VIP political connections to encourage donors to give to his charity.
While on the run, investigators tracked him through Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia.