Feds Catch Navy Veterans Charity ‘Scammer’
(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- The man accused of setting up a fake Navy Veterans charity and siphoning away millions of dollars was captured by U.S. Marshals in Portland, Ore., after nearly two years on the run.
The alleged con artist, who went by the name Bobby Thompson, continued to refuse to reveal his identity after Marshals took him into custody Monday night, according to the Ohio Attorney General's office.
"We've been following him all over the country," Pete Elliott, the U.S. Marshal in northern Ohio who headed the three-man fugitive task force, told ABC News. "We finally caught up with him last night."
Investigators are still unsure of the true identity of "Thompson" and will be working on that as well as identifying his ongoing criminal activity. "Thompson" was transported to the Multnomah County Jail where he will await extradition to Northern Ohio.
Elliott called the case "one of our most challenging fugitive investigations to date."
As detailed in an ABC News investigation, the mustachioed man known as Thompson was charged in Ohio in 2010 on counts of identity theft, fraud, and money laundering in connection with a bogus charity called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association that raised more than $100 million from unsuspecting donors around the country.
To help enhance the charity's credibility, Thompson allegedly used some of the money to make large campaign contributions to prominent politicians, most of them Republicans, including President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, and Ohio Rep. John Boehner, now Speaker of the House. He attended events with the political figures, and posed proudly for now infamous photos with them.
"We are relieved Bobby Thompson is now in federal custody after a nationwide manhunt and years of work within the Attorney General's Office to track him down," Ohio Attorney General DeWine said. "We still don't know the true identity of the man known as Bobby Thompson, who has used the identity of several other people throughout the years. But we commend the teamwork with our federal partners in this case. This case sends a strong message that we will not tolerate scam artists in Ohio."
Elliott told the St. Petersburg Times, which first began raising questions about the charity in 2009, that the man 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 told the newspaper.
The fugitive had neither a beard nor mustache when he was arrested, the paper reported. Otherwise, Elliott said, he looked the same, but was in "poor" physical condition and walking with a cane. He was carrying a backpack with an undisclosed amount of cash.
Earlier in 2012, Elliott told ABC News he believed the marshals were on Thompson's heels, and closing in.
"We've developed some really good leads and we're on those leads," he said. "I feel very confident we'll be able to apprehend him."
In 2009, the first questions began surfacing about the veterans' charity, with the Florida paper finding that none of the members of its board could be located, and its addresses seemed only to lead to post office boxes. Most of the money the charity had purported to raise was unaccounted for, and as authorities began following up on the reports, Thompson vanished.
In the fall of 2011, Florida lawmaker Darryl Rouson told ABC News he had initially helped the man he thought was Bobby Thompson. "He seemed to be a knowledgeable man about politics and community affairs," Rouson said. "He was engaging, jovial. I had no reason to suspect he was anything other than who he said he was."
Thompson had last been seen in the lobby of a New York City hotel as Ohio authorities had begun investigating the veterans' charity. Ohio officials said Thompson had stolen the identity of a real man named Bobby Thompson from Washington state. He also had an identity card from the state of Indiana issued under the name of a man from New Mexico named Ronnie Brittain, they added. The real Ronnie Brittain is the head of a veterans group in New Mexico.
Marshals based in Ohio took over the manhunt last year, with Elliott heading up the effort.
Elliott told the Times, "We went to Arizona, West Virginia, Washington state, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. He was on the move the whole time. We went from being 10 steps behind him to being five steps to being one step."
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio