U.S. Navy Veterans scam
Once under the radar,
now in the spotlight
Bobby Thompson ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Association in Tampa for eight years, raising nearly $100 million from donors nationwide. In March 2010, the Tampa Bay Times exposed Navy Veterans as a sham. Its offices were UPS mail drops, its directors nonexistent, its donations to former military minimal. Even Thompson's identity was fake.
In June 2010, just as state and federal officials were preparing criminal charges, Thompson disappeared. He was caught April 30, 2012, by U.S. Marshals in Portland, Ore., and arrested on charges of money laundering, fraud and identity theft. Thompson had spent two years moving around the country, constantly changing identities, even starting a new charity.
It turns out Bobby Thompson — whose true identity, as determined from his fingerprints on Oct. 1, 2012 — is John Donald Cody, a former military intelligence officer wanted by the FBI for fraud and espionage.
The plot thickens. Follow the Times' continuing coverage.
The arrest and the aftermath
On the run
A 2010 Tampa Bay Times investigation
Under the radar
Is the U.S. Navy Veterans a helpful charity or an illusion? Try finding the leaders and following the money.
The Ybor duplex: Thompson lived in the left side. The right side doubled as offices for the nonprofit Navy Veterans Association and for NAVPAC, a political action committee. After the Times started asking questions, the PAC shut down and Thompson cleared out. His landlord said he left no forwarding address.
The man behind the charity: In documents filed with the IRS, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association included the names of 85 directors and officers. For six months the St. Petersburg Times searched for all of them but could find only one: Bobby Thompson.
The national headquarters: "Suite 275" is a mailbox at a UPS store in Washington D.C.
- Navy Vets charity officials scrambled under scrutiny, documents show (September 4, 2011)
- As Navy Veterans charity was being exposed as fake, there was a face that was real (August 11, 2011)
- As the Navy Vets probe widens, Ohio prosecutors get first guilty plea (June 22, 2011)
- Minnesota fines fugitive founder of Tampa-based Navy vets fake charity (June 2, 2011)
- 'America's Most Wanted' looks at case of Navy Veterans' head 'Bobby Thompson' (March 18, 2011)
- Navy Vets leader made an unchecked rise into elite circles (Dec. 27, 2010)
- Navy Veterans former lawyer: 'I was duped' (Dec. 5, 2010)
- In 2008, IRS audited Navy Veterans and gave the phony charity a clean bill of health (Nov. 18, 2010)
- Tax Returns: 2008 | 2009
- Navy Veterans likely used phony names to send cash to political campaigns (Nov. 8, 2010)
- Ohio indicts leader of Tampa-based Navy Veterans charity (Oct. 15, 2010)
- Ohio attorney general issues arrest warrant for Navy Vets founder; says he stole another man's identity (Aug. 5, 2010)
- Federal agents seize Navy Veterans Association records (July 28, 2010)
- Navy Veterans loses its attorneys and its fundraisers (July 15, 2010)
- Florida orders charity: cease operations now (June 23, 2010)
- Florida to Navy Veterans: Cease and desist or see you in court (June 16, 2010)
- The complaint (PDF) (June 16, 2010)
- Navy Veterans Association takes credit for letters to troops from children at Catholic school (June 16, 2010)
- Navy Veterans charity lifts service members' thank-you letters from other organizations (June 9, 2010)
- Senator to IRS: Investigate the U.S. Navy Veterans Association (May 28, 2010)
- Nonprofit under investigation wins registration exemption in Virginia (May 22, 2010)
- Stand-ins posed as members of Navy Veterans Association (May 16, 2010)
- U.S. Navy Veterans Association being investigated after it claims officer is not fictional (May 6, 2010)
- Navy veterans group takes out newspaper ad, says it's legit (April 23, 2010)
- Fla. officials investigating charity
(April 7, 2010)
- New Mexico tells Navy Veterans Association: Cease and desist
(April 6, 2010)
- New Mexico Attorney General's letter (PDF)
- Missing persons: Of 85 U.S. Navy Veterans Association officials, we found just one (April 6, 2010)
- Money and politics
Bobby Thompson mixed his nonprofit with his personal politics, which are passionately held and backed with cash. (March 22, 2010)
- Dear Sen. Miller
Les Miller says the charity's message was clear: Drop out of the Hillsborough County Commission race.
- 'News to me'
Records lead to a California professor and a phantom voter in Hillsborough County.
- Political contributions by Bobby C. Thompson (PDF) (Updated Nov. 4, 2010)
- NAVPAC contributions (PDF)
- Letter to Les Miller (PDF)
- Under the radar
Is the U.S. Navy Veterans a helpful charity or an illusion? Try finding the leaders and following the money. (March 21, 2010)
- About the USNVA
Many names, many claims ... many dead ends.
- Letters: The U.S. Navy Veterans Association responds
Answering questions from the St. Petersburg Times, the group sent hundreds of pages of e-mails that veered into attacks on the reporter, the newspaper and the nonprofit that owns it, the Poynter Institute. Here are nine key responses.
Subscribe to the Times
for daily delivery
of the Tampa Bay Times.