Let's be very clear about this. If Bobby Thompson, or Anderson Yazzie, or — for all we know — Keyser Soze, or whatever his cockamamie name is, turns out to be the actual con man who finagled millions of dollars for his phony U.S. Navy Veterans Association, then this chap deserves to spend hoosegow sentences for each of his phone book of aliases.
Sheesh, this guy apparently had more multiple identities than Sybil.
And so, after a nationwide U.S. marshal manhunt, "Bobby Thompson" was arrested a few days ago after leaving a Portland, Ore., bar. Well, at least he had plenty of ID to get served.
The charges include fraud, money laundering and identity theft. Gee, do you think?
Still, the Thompson case remains a fascinating exercise in criminal mischief, once more demonstrating that chutzpah will almost always trump gullibility.
In retrospect, it stretches the bounds of credulity that this mystery man could mastermind such a massive scam. The unknown huckster ran his money-grubbing operation out of a dilapidated house in Ybor City, usually showed up at social functions looking more like Clem Kadiddlehopper than a savvy fundraiser and ladled promotional material with a list of either fictitious people or people who were completely uninvolved with the con.
Yet, he pulled it off — for quite a while. Thompson was smart enough to know how to skirt IRS tax-exempt rules while raking in perhaps as much as $100 million over eight years. Or maybe more.
How could that happen? From 2002, when Thompson created the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, until he went on the lam in 2010 after the Times began investigating the fake charity, things went swimmingly for the Professor Harold Hill of grifting.
Perhaps Thompson had a too cruel understanding of human nature. Most of us want to believe a good story. "Bobby Thompson" was raising money for heroic Navy veterans. Who wouldn't want to contribute to that?
Instead, Thompson took advantage of the fundamental good nature of people. And by the time everybody found out that this character was a creep — poof! He was gone. The money, too.
Conniving. Duplicitous. Immoral. To be sure, "Bobby Thompson" was all of those things. And, you also have to grudgingly admit, brilliant, too.
It's an old criminal court axiom: If only this thief had applied his considerable skills to make an honest living, Thompson might well be enjoying the high life in a swanky manse instead of a jail cell in Portland.
But it is also true that a swindler's heart beats faster in the hunt for ill-gotten gains than when playing by the book.
And that brings us, perhaps, to the greatest mystery of all: Just who is this flimflam artiste?
In an age when it would seem literally impossible to simply disappear in plain sight in society — at least as of this writing — the badges still have no idea who that guy sitting in the slammer really is.
Thompson has not been helpful, signing papers associated with his arrest in a big fat X. Fingerprints so far have not revealed his name, which would suggest he has never been arrested before. And that might also suggest a DNA sample won't turn up much either.
So who is this charlatan?
Why did he do what he did?
And, oh yeah, where's the rest of the money?
Yet X isn't in a chatty mood.
But that's okay. Everyone now has plenty of time.