Jeff Testerman, Times Staff Writer

Jeff Testerman

Jeff Testerman, born March 9, 1949, graduated from Rockledge High School, earned a bachelor's degree in American Studies at Eckerd College in 1971 and studied at the Institute of Liberal Arts at Emory University. After stints as a construction worker, savings and loan officer and freelance photographer, he joined the St. Petersburg Times as a reporter in 1980. The newspaper has nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize five times for investigative reporting, including stories about illegal patient brokering, the indictment of four people in a city of Tampa housing scandal and the trail of fraud by swindler Matthew B. Cox. He is an authority on Florida's public records and specializes in investigations involving property transactions, nonprofit finances and government corruption.

Phone: (813) 226-3422

E-mail: testerman@tampabay.com

  1. Accusations encircle rise, fall and fight over Cast-Crete Corp

    Corporate

    TAMPA — Thirty years ago, a young auditor poring over the books at a building materials company called Cast-Crete caught the eye of the firm's boss, Ralph Hughes.

    The auditor was a former U.S. Army sergeant with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for rescuing a downed helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He had an MBA from the University of South Florida and one of the highest scores in the nation among candidates taking the CPA exam....

    Cast-Crete Corp., a precast concrete materials company in Seffner, was found by a jury in January to be owned by the Hughes family, not John Stanton. The IRS says the company failed to file tax returns from 2003 to 2007, when Stanton was president.
  2. FBI: Buddy Johnson committed no federal crime

    Local

    TAMPA — Former Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson illegally overspent his budget, pouring hundreds of thousands of tax dollars into a "voter education" campaign that placed his name and image in front of the public during his 2008 re-election effort.

    He used a cozy relationship to obtain a loan from a bank run by his campaign treasurer to purchase property from Cecil and Nita Bass, an elderly couple who say Johnson defrauded them....

  3. Navy Vets leader made an unchecked rise into elite circles

    Human Interest

    Bobby Thompson came out of nowhere, as if he'd fallen from the sky.

    He landed in Tampa in 1998, walked wherever he went and kept to himself. His landlord thought he looked like a bum.

    He lived in a run-down, $1,200-a-month duplex on 17th Avenue in Ybor City, where the view from the front steps is concertina wire atop the fenced parking lot behind the Cuesta-Rey Cigar factory, and beyond, an elevated section of Interstate 4. ...

    From the humble side of Tampa but supposedly with the heft of a charity 66,000 strong behind him, “Bobby Thompson’’ stood with those of the political stripe he supported: President George Bush, Karl Rove, Sen. John McCain and Ohio Rep. John Boehner.
  4. Navy Veterans former lawyer: 'I was duped'

    Human Interest

    Until now, retired Capt. Samuel F. Wright, legal counsel and political lobbyist for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, has declined to speak publicly about the nonprofit charity that has been revealed to be a spectacular scam.

    "I feel terrible about the whole thing,'' Wright said in breaking his silence in a 90-minute interview last week. "I feel embarrassed. I guess we live and learn."

    Wright said he blamed himself for accepting Bobby Thompson's "cockamamy'' explanations. He believed the Navy Veterans was a genuine nonprofit, he said, and its pony-tailed founder a wealthy if eccentric retired intelligence officer who poured his own cash into right-wing causes....

  5. In 2008, IRS audited Navy Veterans and gave the phony charity a clean bill of health

    National

    In a tax audit two years ago, IRS agents spent hours poring over records from the U.S. Navy Veterans Association and listening to assurances from the group's founder, Lt. Cmdr. Bobby Thompson, and his attorneys.

    The IRS gave the charity a "clean bill of health."

    That left the Navy Veterans free to continue a nationwide telemarketing campaign which, according to tax returns, brought the group another $27.6 million in 2009 — donations the public was led to believe would help veterans and America's fighting troops overseas....

  6. Legal troubles, probes swirl around businessman Ralph Hughes' company

    Civil

    TAMPA — The housing boom was at its height, and the future never looked rosier at Cast-Crete.

    The Seffner company, transformed to specialize in precast concrete building materials, saw its income skyrocket, rolling up profits of $1 million a week in 2006 alone.

    At the helm were chairman Ralph Hughes and president John D. Stanton, who took $115 million in income and used the money for political largesse and business acquisitions. ...

  7. Navy Veterans used phony names to send cash to campaigns, inquiry finds

    National

    Was the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, which operated as a tax-exempt charity from a Tampa duplex, really a front that siphoned cash donated by the public and pumped it into the campaigns of politicians?

    The evidence compiled by investigators fanning out across the country in search of the Navy Vets' fugitive founder, "Commander Bobby Thompson,'' suggests the answer is yes.

    In Ohio, the Attorney General's Office has uncovered a series of money orders sent to political campaigns from individuals who don't exist. The contributions, to the campaigns of presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, list phony donors with addresses that turned out to be mailboxes rented by the Navy Veterans group....

    President George W. Bush shakes hands with “Commander Bobby Thompson’’ of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Also pictured is political consultant Barry S. Edwards, at a 2008 Republican fundraiser in Washington, D.C.
  8. Court documents say U.S. Navy Veterans Association volunteer took $416,000

    Criminal

    Blanca Contreras, a Tampa woman listed as an unpaid volunteer for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, personally took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from the charity's account, according to court papers filed Wednesday by the office of the Ohio attorney general.

    Between October 2007 and June of this year, the Clair-Mel resident "personally withdrew $416,000 in cash from a single USNVA account," according to a motion asking that Contreras be held on $2 million bail....

  9. Timeline: The U.S. Navy Veterans Association

    Criminal

    Aug. 3, 1998: Bobby C. Thompson, who says he's a lifelong Tampa resident, registers to vote in Hillsborough County for the first time. His registration puts his age at 52.

    August 1999: Navy Veterans political action committee, NAVPAC, is formed. Thompson is listed as treasurer.

    July 2002: With Thompson as a founding director, the Navy Veterans Association applies to the IRS for tax-exempt status. The application states the group has 119 members, expended $6,703 on behalf of veterans in the first half of 2002 and estimates annual revenues the next four years will not exceed $10,000. ...

  10. Ohio indicts leader of Tampa-based Navy Veterans charity

    Criminal

    TAMPA — An Ohio grand jury has returned corruption, theft and money laundering indictments against Bobby Thompson, the man who masqueraded as a retired lieutenant commander and ran the multimillion-dollar U.S. Navy Veterans Association from an Ybor City duplex for nearly a decade.

    The indictments made public Friday accuse Thompson and Tampa associate Blanca Contreras of "engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity," money laundering and the theft of more than $1 million from Ohio residents through the Navy Veterans charity....

  11. Belleair Beach millionaire scam artist Peter Porcelli finally faces justice

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Peter J. Porcelli, a Pinellas businessman who made millions in telemarketing and owned the world-champion Tampa Bay Smokers fast-pitch softball team, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Thursday for defrauding dozens of local homeowners with a foreclosure relief scam.

    Using a phony nonprofit, Porcelli promised residents facing foreclosure he would save their homes. But victims instead saw illegal loan fees, annual interest rates ballooning as high as 260 percent and a provision to forfeit their homes if payments were missed....

  12. Crooks targeted legions of people with bad credit

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Peter Porcelli's $6.7 million mansion, perched three stories high on the sands of Belleair Beach, was called Millenium Sunset. Kyle Kimoto's ranch, set on 10 acres in St. George, Utah, featured 11 bedrooms, nine bathrooms and 6,000 square feet of air-conditioned horse stables.

    Both magnificent homes have different owners now, and Porcelli and Kimoto have moved into new quarters: 8- by 12-foot federal prison cells with bunk beds and steel commodes....

  13. Ohio attorney general issues arrest warrant for Navy Vets founder; says he stole another man's identity

    Veterans

    Lt. Cmdr. Bobby Thompson, who founded the U.S. Navy Veterans Association in Tampa in 2002, isn't named Bobby Thompson after all, and now stands accused of stealing that name from an unsuspecting resident of Washington state.

    What is the real name of the man who masqueraded as the director of a nationwide charity for a decade, and where is he now?

    That's what Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray was asking Thursday, as he announced that a nationwide arrest warrant for identity theft had been issued for the man who called himself Thompson but is listed now as a fugitive named "John Doe." ...

  14. Federal agents seize U.S. Navy Veterans Association records

    Veterans

    TAMPA — Armed with a search warrant, federal and state agents on Friday seized documents and computer records from the Clair-Mel home of residents who served as assistants to Bobby Thompson, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association director who vanished last month.

    Criminal investigators from the IRS, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services arrived at the home at 2062 Balfour Circle on Friday morning and seized boxes of documents — some already shredded — and loaded them into an unmarked van....

    Investigators raid the home at 2062 Balfour Circle in the Clair-Mel neighborhood of Tampa on Friday. Two residents there are linked to Bobby Thompson, director of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. He recently vanished.
  15. Mystery surrounding U.S. Navy Veterans director Bobby Thompson grows

    Veterans

    In 2006, Ohio politician Betty Montgomery reported a $500 contribution to her 2006 campaign for attorney general from U.S. Navy Veterans director Bobby C. Thompson. His address was listed at 934 Smiley Ave., Cincinnati.

    A Bobby Thompson did live there, just not Bobby C. Thompson. It was Bobby no-middle-initial Thompson, a 67-year-old retired metalworker who says he lived in that Smiley Avenue house with his wife, Ernestine, during all of 2006, but he never wrote a campaign check to anyone....