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Bobby Thompson, fugitive from Navy Vets charity, caught on West Coast

An arrest mug shot shows Bobby Thompson after he was taken into custody by federal officials early this morning.
An arrest mug shot shows Bobby Thompson after he was taken into custody by federal officials early this morning.
Published May 1, 2012

The man known as Bobby Thompson spent years concocting elaborate disguises to trick donors out of money and elude authorities trying to track him down.

It all came to a quiet end Monday, when U.S. Marshals placed him in handcuffs as he was coming home from a Portland, Ore., bar around 10:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. Tuesday EDT).

After nearly two years as a fugitive, the mastermind behind U.S. Navy Veterans Association, a multimillion-dollar sham charity run out of a duplex in Tampa, is finally in federal custody.

Soon after his disappearance, officials discovered that Bobby Thompson was actually a stolen identity. When he was apprehended in Portland, he was using the name Anderson Yazzie. In his pocket, he had three resident alien cards with different names from Canada.

"We still don't know his real name," said Pete Elliott, the U.S. Marshal in northern Ohio who headed the three-man fugitive task force. "But we will."

Elliott said the man who founded and ran Navy Veterans seemed shocked at finding agents on his doorstep, but said nothing.

"He just said he wasn't going to give us any information. And he hasn't," Elliott said.

A burly man who wore a bushy beard and mustache while masquerading as Thompson, the fugitive had neither a beard nor mustache when he was arrested. Otherwise, Elliott said, he looked the same.

The U.S. Marshals who took him into custody found him in "poor" physical condition and walking with a cane. He was carrying a backpack with an undisclosed amount of cash.

As Thompson, the fugitive operated what purported to be a prominent veterans' charity with chapters nationwide that raised nearly $100 million over eight years. A series of stories in the Tampa Bay Times in early 2010 revealed that all Navy Veterans' officers were fictional, with the exception of Thompson, and little money went to needy veterans.

In June 2010, Thompson, believed to be in his early 60s, disappeared shortly after being indicted in Ohio on federal charges of identity theft, fraud and money laundering. Ohio's attorney general took the lead in pursuing Thompson because Navy Veterans had a chapter in that state. Florida officials initiated legal action against Thompson but dropped it when he became a fugitive.

Elliott said his agency was put on the hunt for Thompson in November and he assigned three people full time to the job. In February, they posted electronic billboards in the Albuquerque area, where he was believed to have had ties. Since then, the marshals have zigzagged the nation on Thompson's path.

"We went to Arizona, West Virginia, Washington state, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island," Elliott said. "He was on the move the whole time. We went from being 10 steps behind him to being five steps to being one step."

Elliott said his office got tons of tips about Thompson's whereabouts, but he declined to say what led agents to Oregon. Though Thompson was flying around the country, relocating constantly as the manhunt intensified, he had time to get in a little work.

Elliott said that while in Boston, where he lived until March 2011, Thompson was busy setting up another scam.

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