Monday, December 11, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Sentence sends message to scam artists

The 28-year prison sentence Monday in the charity fraud case of the Tampa-based U.S. Navy Veterans Association should send a warning to scam artists and regulators alike. The state of Ohio did the country a service by pursuing the man who calls himself Bobby Thompson, who ran a $100 million fraud that preyed on real veterans and a generous public eager to honor their service. The heavy prison term and $6 million fine should send a message to similar operations. The trial's outcome also should inspire the federal government and the states to go further in cracking down on sham operations that undermine public faith in charitable giving.

The sentence imposed by Judge Steven Gall wasn't as severe as the 41-year prison term that Ohio's attorney general was seeking. But it's substantial enough to keep the 67-year-old Thompson (who authorities say is Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody) off the streets perhaps for good. The stiff fine, while amounting to only a fraction of the value of the sham operation, should send a message to charities that they could pay a high price for violating the public's trust. This punishment was appropriate, and authorities across the nation should see it as a guide for the attention and vigilance they need to show in policing these nonprofits.

Thompson was convicted in November of racketeering, theft, money laundering and 12 counts of identity theft. His prosecution followed a series of reports in the Tampa Bay Times by staff writers Jeff Testerman and John Martin chronicling the scale of the sham enterprise, which operated in 41 states and was based in Ybor City. Before Thompson dropped out of site, he lavished politicians with political contributions, and while his operation raked in tens of millions, little of that went to people actually in need. When he was arrested last year in Oregon, authorities found fake ID's and a suitcase with nearly $1 million in cash.

Monday's sentence closes an embarrassing episode for Florida regulators, who failed to prevent Thompson from fleecing donors, and whose inaction helped sour the public confidence necessary for charitable entities to survive. Ohio already has distributed about $100,000 to veterans that it seized from Thompson, and Florida should look to close out this case on a positive note as well. It needs to provide regulators with the resources they need to monitor the leadership and track records of charitable groups. It should impose higher penalties for fraud and make it easier for the public to obtain a nonprofit's financial records. And legislators should close a legal loophole that enables charity mangers to evade a law aimed at preventing felons from being hired to work the phones. As the Times' Kris Hundley reported this week, that loophole has already caused the collapse of one recent case against a charity operating from the bay area.

Sham charities operate outside of the law, and the only way to deal with them is to get tough by increasing the risks and costs of getting caught. The public also needs confidence that the government is keeping the charities honest. Otherwise the fear of being cheated will significantly reduce charitable giving, which is vital to meeting so many community needs.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17