CLEVELAND — Bobby Thompson was a "Machiavellian genius" who drank four Bloody Marys at a business breakfast, dressed like a homeless man and claimed he was funded through a "black box" budget at the CIA.
So said Helen MacMurray, a Columbus, Ohio-area lawyer whose testimony dominated the second day of Thompson's trial here on charges of fraud, money laundering and theft.
MacMurray represented Thompson's U.S. Navy Veterans Association, a Tampa charity that was exposed in mid 2010 as a complete charade.
In more than six hours on the stand, the former Ohio charity regulator described how she began to have doubts about her client, what triggered the end of their relationship and how the whole episode still puzzles her.
"I made a list of 30 things he told me that made no sense, but I kept thinking, 'Of course he's telling the truth,' " MacMurray said. "He had it all planned out. He's a genius."
Thompson, who faces up to 40 years in prison, sat across the courtroom, listening impassively and passing notes to his court-appointed attorney.
A Harvard-trained lawyer and former military intelligence officer whose real name is John Donald Cody, the defendant raised more than $100 million for Navy Veterans over eight years, yet fabricated his roster of directors and members and gave little to needy veterans. He became a fugitive after a March 2010 Times story raised questions about the organization. Thompson, 66, was apprehended in May 2012.
MacMurray, who began representing Navy Veterans in 2007, said Thompson panicked when the Times began investigating. His response, MacMurray said, was to order her to hire a private investigator to see what he could find out about Bobby Thompson. When the detective found no military record for Thompson, who claimed to be a retired Navy commander, MacMurray said her client explained he had enlisted using a relative's identity because he was under-age.
When asked by Thompson's attorney, Joseph Patituce, if she had taken any action based on that information, MacMurray said "No."
She said she didn't act until nearly a year later, as states' attorneys general, including Ohio's, began investigating the charity following the Times' story. Ohio's investigation led to the criminal charges Thompson faces today.
Kris Hundley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.