He has assumed the identities of a full-blooded Choctaw in Washington state, a policeman who died on the job in Tennessee and a disabled veteran in New Mexico.
He stole other names as he needed them — one to vote in a Florida election, another to donate cash to an Ohio politician.
In Tampa, he was Bobby Thompson.
No one knows the real name or whereabouts of the scruffy, bearded man who ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Association until the charity collapsed under scrutiny in mid 2010. He is now a fugitive, wanted by federal officials on charges of money laundering, fraud and identity theft.
For more than a decade, he kept his real identity secret as he cycled through a parade of stolen names: Ronnie Brittain, Elmer L. Dosier, Thomas W. Mader, Robert Thompson, Morgan Cleveland, William Dupont and, of course, Bobby Thompson.
Public record searches show no obvious connections between them. The men say they do not know each other or have any idea how their personal information landed in the hands of a con man in Tampa.
But a closer look at the real people may hint at the impostor's identity.
Of his seven known aliases, four were stolen from people who either lived or worked on Indian reservations.
The real Ronnie Brittain is part Cherokee and used to make deliveries to the Navajo reservation that sprawls across four states west of Gallup, N.M. The real Morgan Cleveland spent most of his life on that same reservation.
Elmer Dosier worked on a different reservation outside Albuquerque and was married to a Pueblo Indian.
And Bobby Thompson, whose identity our mystery man assumed for at least a dozen years, spent his career working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that provides services to tribes across the country.
The similarities don't end there.
Three of the stolen identities came from men who spent time in the military. Four lived at least part of their lives in the Southwest, three in the Albuquerque area.
The connection is strong enough that the U.S. Marshals Service, which picked up the hunt in November, has concentrated its effort in Albuquerque.
Marshals have posted billboards with photos of the Navy Veterans founder. Brittain, the Gallup man, showed those photos around his local grocery store earlier this month and got a surprising response: It looked like a man wanted for shoplifting about a year ago.
"This guy just loaded up a cart full of meat and walked out with it on a Sunday afternoon right after Christmas," said Mike Chavez, manager of Lowe's Supermarket, who saw a video of the incident from the store's surveillance cameras. "Somebody ran out to get his license, but he took off in an old Chevy Blazer before they could get it."
Chavez said the shoplifter's picture had been posted on the bulletin board in the employee break room for months before he finally tossed it not long ago. Then Brittain, and later the marshals, came by with photos of the wanted man.
"It sure did look like the guy," Chavez said.
The real Bobby Thompson
The Navy Veterans founder stole his primary persona from a Choctaw Indian born 65 years ago in Mississippi. Though the fugitive claimed to be 1/16 Choctaw, people who know the real Bobby Thompson say he looked nothing like his alter ego.
"Bobby's full blood (Choctaw)," said Ken York of Philadelphia, Miss., after seeing a photo of the Navy Veterans founder. "He's a lot darker than that guy."
Officials discovered Thompson's identity theft months before he disappeared in June 2010. After the Times raised questions about Navy Veterans in a March 2010 story, investigators learned that Thompson had reported having a driver's license in New Mexico. When they pulled up Thompson's picture on New Mexico's database, it was the dark-skinned Choctaw who looked nothing like the man using his name in Florida.
The real Bobby Thompson spent his career working on reservations in Idaho, Arizona and North Dakota before retiring in the late 1990s as superintendent in charge of schools at Standing Rock Sioux reservation in the Dakotas. He returned to his home state of Mississippi, where he served on the Choctaw tribal council until 2003, then moved to Albuquerque.
Voter registration documents show Thompson is now living outside Seattle. Despite numerous efforts, the Times was unable to reach him to comment for this story.
Victims caught unawares
Among the aliases assumed by the Tampa man was a policeman who died in 1999. Elmer L. Dosier's children told the Times they were completely unaware their father's name and Social Security number had been used — after his death — to get an Indiana driver's license. The photo on the license: the founder of Navy Veterans.
Four other men whose identities were stolen also told the Times they were clueless about the theft until told by investigators. None of the men recognized photos of the man who misused their identities. They could not imagine any way their paths had crossed the fugitive's or even each other's. They hadn't attended the same schools, been in the same military units or belonged to the same clubs. And none of those interviewed said they ever donated to Navy Veterans.
Nor had any of them gotten hints over the years that someone else might be using their personal information. There were no strange speeding tickets turning up in the mail, no unaccountable debts on their credit reports, at least that they knew about.
Brittain, the disabled vet in Gallup, said U.S. Marshals asked him if he ever had any credit cards or loans. He hasn't.
They asked him if he'd been to Boston or Indiana. Brittain said he has never been in either place. A driver's license had been issued in Brittain's name in Indiana, with the Navy Veterans founder's photo.
Brittain's reaction to the news: "I just about fell over."
Someone used Thomas Mader's name and the Navy Veterans' Ybor City address to vote in Hillsborough County in 2004 and 2008. Mader, who lives in California, told the Times in 2010 he has never lived in Tampa, never voted in Hillsborough and never heard of Navy Veterans.
"This is all news to me," Mader said.
Charm and deceit
Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI agent in Virginia, said the Navy Veterans founder fits the profile of a white-collar psychopath.
"This type of person uses a shroud of charm and deceit to keep his psychopathic fiction afloat," said McCrary, who now does consulting and expert witness work. "They manipulate everybody. But at some point, it all comes crashing down."
McCrary said the fact that the Navy Veterans founder had several stolen identities in his possession shows he had an escape plan.
"He's obviously a high-functioning, intelligent person," McCrary said. "But he won't be able to resist committing crimes of some sort. Psychopaths think they're smarter than everyone else and have a sense of invulnerability. He may be creating some other grandiose identity. But he just has to make one mistake."
Times researchers Natalie Watson and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Kris Hundley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996.
About the people whose names he used
The Tampa man who ran the sham charity masqueraded under a number of assumed identities.
A full-blooded Choctaw, Thompson, 65, worked several decades for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, serving on reservations in Arizona, Idaho and North Dakota. After retiring in the late 1990s, he was a tribal council member with the Mississippi Band of Choctaws. Thompson later moved to Albuquerque, N.M., and now lives in Washington state. The fugitive used Thompson's identity as early as 1998 and throughout the time he ran Navy Veterans.
Disabled with a back injury, Brittain, 55, lives in a trailer park in Gallup, N.M. He was born in Oklahoma and has Cherokee heritage on his grandmother's side. Brittain worked for El Paso Natural Gas in Texas before moving to Gallup in 1987. He retired in 2006 and is an officer with his local chapter of Disabled American Veterans. Brittain said investigators told him his date of birth and Social Security number were used by the Navy Veterans founder to get an Indiana driver's license.
Elmer L. Dosier
Dosier was a 50-year-old police officer in Gallaway, Tenn., who had a fatal heart attack in 1999 while chasing a drug suspect. A Vietnam veteran and ordained minister, Dosier had worked in law enforcement on a reservation outside Albuquerque while he was married to a Pueblo woman in the late 1970s. He lived again in Albuquerque in the mid 1990s. After Dosier's death, the founder of Navy Veterans used his information to get an Indiana driver's license.
Cleveland is a 60-year-old Navajo who is a school board member in his hometown of Ganado, Ariz. Though he speaks English, he prefers his native language. Someone used Cleveland's name and date of birth to get a voter ID in Hillsborough County in 2004, registering as a Republican. The voter ID used the address of a Tampa duplex at 1628 E 17th Ave. rented by the Navy Veterans founder. Cleveland's wife said her husband has been in Florida once, stopping to get gas in Jacksonville in 2003. She said he never would have registered as a Republican.
Thomas W. Mader
Mader, 63, is a retired Naval captain who lives in California. He has never lived in Tampa. Yet Mader's name, date of birth and the Navy Veterans' 1628 E 17th Ave. address were used to register to vote in Hillsborough County in 2003. And someone cast absentee ballots in Florida using Mader's name in 2004 and 2008.
Robert C. Thompson Sr.
A lifelong resident of the Cincinnati area, Thompson, 69, is a retired forklift driver. The only political donations he has ever made have been to President Barack Obama. But in 2006, Ohio Republican politician Betty Montgomery reported a $500 contribution to her campaign for attorney general from U.S. Navy Veterans director Bobby C. Thompson. His address was listed as 934 Smiley Ave., Cincinnati. That was Thompson's address, but it wasn't his donation.
William J. DuPont Jr.
Dupont, 55, appears to have lived his entire life in Louisiana. He could not be reached for comment for this story. In March 2010, a few weeks before the first story about Navy Veterans appeared in the Times, the lawyer for Navy Veterans hired a private detective to investigate the charity's founder. In a report labeled "Confidential . . . for requester's eye's only," the investigator revealed what he had learned when he tracked a Social Security number that "was supplied as possibly belonging to Bobby Thompson." It belonged instead to Dupont.