Three St. Petersburg Times journalists have won a 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors award for "Under the Radar," their investigation into a bogus Navy veterans charity and its elusive founder.
Recently retired reporter Jeff Testerman, news researcher John Martin and former editor Richard Bockman are sharing the IRE award in the category for newspapers with circulations from 250,000 to 500,000 with the Seattle Times, which was honored for its stories about abuse and neglect in homes for the elderly.
Testerman and Martin "uncovered an exceptionally brazen fake charity scheme that had collected millions of dollars in the name of veterans and funneled money to conservative politicians across the nation," IRE said.
The U.S. Navy Veterans Association claimed offices in 41 states and nearly 67,000 members. But Testerman and Martin found no evidence that any of the people listed on the association's elaborate website as members of the national board of directors or state officers even existed.
The group's founder, who used a false identity, Lt. Commander Bobby Thompson, is now on the lam. As a result of the Times' series, federal authorities are investigating, and an Ohio grand jury has indicted "Thompson," alleging theft, racketeering and money laundering.
In addition, Times reporters Sydney P. Freedberg and Kris Hundley, computer-assisted reporting specialist Connie Humburg, news researchers Shirl Kennedy and Carolyn Edds, and Bockman, who left the paper in January to work at a Tampa law firm, were finalists for IRE's Freedom of Information Medal for their work on Florida's pension fund. The Washington Post won the medal for its work tracking where guns used in crimes were bought.