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Bobby Thompson wanted telemarketers to avoid scrutiny for his charity

Bobby Thompson, also known according to authorities as Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody, sits in a courtroom Tuesday at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center in Cleveland. Thompson is charged with defrauding donors to a reputed charity, the United States Navy Veterans Association, based in Tampa. He could face 40 years in prison if convicted.

CHUCK CROW | Plain Dealer

Bobby Thompson, also known according to authorities as Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody, sits in a courtroom Tuesday at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center in Cleveland. Thompson is charged with defrauding donors to a reputed charity, the United States Navy Veterans Association, based in Tampa. He could face 40 years in prison if convicted.

CLEVELAND — A former telemarketer for U.S. Navy Veterans Association testified Wednesday that the man who ran the Tampa charity put unusual conditions on fundraising in some states.

He didn't want to exceed donation levels that would trigger a financial audit.

"That gets costly," said Mark Gelvan, whose company worked for Bobby Thompson in 2003 and 2004.

An audit would also presumably have uncovered that Thompson's Navy Veterans had non-existent directors, mail drops as offices and provided little assistance to veterans. The charity collapsed in mid-2010 after authorities began investigating.

Authorities in Ohio, whose residents donated more than $3 million to the charity, charged Thompson with fraud, money laundering and identity theft. If the jury finds him guilty, Thompson, whose real name is John Donald Cody, could face up to 40 years in prison.

On Wednesday, Tom O'Daniel, whose company handled vehicles donated to Navy Veterans, testified that Thompson asked him to buy a new Ford F150 pickup truck for the charity. "He was very specific," O'Daniel said of the four-wheel drive truck, which cost Navy Veterans about $43,000.

O'Daniel, who had been working with the group since 2004, said that when questions arose about Navy Veterans in May 2010, he gladly agreed to join the board.

"I thought it was an honor," O'Daniel said. He resigned about three weeks later after learning that the charity's Washington headquarters was a post office box, and its directors were nowhere to be found. "From what I was hearing, it seemed like a house of cards," he said.

Also testifying Wednesday was Tim Curtis, owner of the UPS Store on W Waters Avenue in Tampa that was the charity's main address.

Curtis said he got to know Thompson as a customer but that on two occasions they socialized outside work. Curtis met Thompson for a football game in Baltimore and a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., with Thompson paying all expenses.

On one of those occasions, the men had their photos taken with former Ohio Sen. George Voinovich and Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush.

Pointing across the courtroom, Curtis identified the defendant, dressed in a black suit and red tie, as his former customer.

Testimony continues Thursday in the trial, which is expected to take up to six weeks.

Bobby Thompson wanted telemarketers to avoid scrutiny for his charity 10/09/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 11:57pm]
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