Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sue Carlton: The unmasking of Bobby Thompson

Bobby Thompson was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Bobby Thompson was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

There he sat in a Cleveland courtroom, disheveled and bleary-eyed and looking in need of a good scrubbing.

The man known as Bobby Thompson seemed more like a pathetic homeless person than a Harvard-educated lawyer, former military intelligence officer and slick opportunist who scammed well-meaning people out of millions in the name of charity.

Do you suppose his look was yet another scheme to pluck at the heartstrings?

Too bad. The catch-me-if-you-can karma of the man who ran a charity in the name of Navy veterans officially ran out this week with his 28-year prison sentence on racketeering, money laundering and identity theft charges. Barring one last dash of that improbable Bobby Thompson luck on appeal, he will stay locked up until he is at least 76, maybe for the rest of his life.

What an inglorious and fitting end for the man who ran his scam from a rundown duplex near an abandoned cigar factory in Ybor City. His real name, by the way, is John Donald Cody. But "Bobby" sounds so much more trustworthy.

Photographs show him posed with local big shots and major politicians right on up to President George W. Bush — all in the name of a noble-sounding charity to help Navy veterans in need.

Except it mostly didn't, as the Times' Jeff Testerman and John Martin revealed in a 2010 investigation.

The U.S. Navy Veterans Association raised $100 million over eight years from people who wanted to help, except it turned out to be more about the man who created it helping himself.

The Washington, D.C., headquarters for a charity he said had 60,000 members across 40 states turned out to be a rental mailbox at a UPS store.

I bet he liked those news stories that described him as a "mastermind." I wonder if he fancied himself a roguish James Bond type, only with a darker bent.

He was on the run, smoke and mirrors, a cardboard cut-out. Turned out he'd been wanted by the FBI since the late 1980s. In a photograph of him shaking hands with a local sheriff before the scam was exposed, you would swear the beard on "Thompson" was as fake as Halloween.

He could have been something out of a movie except for the very real damage that was done here. People trusted and gave and got burned. And maybe they won't take that chance again.

You read about similarly bogus charities and think there must be an army of black-hearted people in the world, busy coming up with every possible way to play you and take your money.

They call the elderly late at night and pretend to be a grandchild in terrible trouble and desperate need of immediate cash. Please, help me. Nothing is too ugly to try.

At Thompson/Cody's sentencing this week, the judge added a caveat: He is to spend every Veterans Day in solitary confinement. Most of the $1 million he had when he was busted — of course he had a million bucks, plus plenty of birth certificates for becoming somebody else yet again — is to go to real veterans causes.

None of which replaces the trust he took.

Still, there is a satisfaction to seeing a Bobby Thompson unmasked at last — no longer a mastermind, just another grifter on his way to prison.

Sue Carlton: The unmasking of Bobby Thompson 12/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 8:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Even presidents get sinkholes: One has formed at Trump's Mar-a-Lago

    Bizarre News

    Even presidential mansions are susceptible to sinkholes — especially if they're in Florida.

    A sinkhole has formed in front of President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in south Florida.
  2. Colt Prattes and Abigail Breslin do the iconic lift scene in the remake of Dirty Dancing on ABC.
  3. Goodbye Tampa Bay Express, hello Tampa Bay Next; but toll lanes aren't going anywhere

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Express is dead.

    But it's replacement — Tampa Bay Next — will likely include many of the same projects, including express toll lanes on the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. DOT officials say there are still re-evaluating the most controversial aspect of the old TBX plan: spend $6 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area highways - Interstates 4,75 and 275 - that are currently free of tolls. But TBN will keep the plan to add express toll lanes to the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Trigaux: Tampa Bay lands on Forbes 2017 ranking of best places for young professionals

    Working Life

    Consider this one more notch in the belt of Tampa Bay starting to win serious attention from millennials as place to live and build a career.

    Mike Griffin is a senior managing director in Tampa for Savills Studley Occupier Services, which provides integrated real estate services. He is also chairman for 2017 of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the first of the next generation of leadership emerging in this metro market. [Courtesy of Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce]
  5. Column: Trump beat Bush, Rubio but has become an 'establishment sellout'

    Blogs

    NYT’s Ross Douthat's Sunday column: Donald Trump, Establishment Sellout