(NEW YORK) — Authorities revealed on Monday that they believe “Bobby Thompson,” the man accused of using a fake veterans charity to swindle more than $100 million and to rub shoulders with top-level Republicans, is actually a former military intelligence officer named John Donald Cody.
Officials said Cody has been on an FBI watch list for 25 years after being accused of various frauds and was wanted for questioning related to an espionage investigation, as first reported by The Tampa Bay Times.
After apparently evading arrest for more than two decades, the 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 over seven years, as detailed in an ABC News investigation.
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.
Cody was arrested in May in connection with the charity scam, but refused to reveal his true identity, signing any papers with the letter “X.”
Thompson led authorities on a cross-country manhunt that a U.S. Marshal called “one of our most challenging fugitive investigations to date.”
But even after he was caught, the man proved to be a challenge for officials. When taken to court days after his arrest, the man then-known as Thompson dared prosecutors to discover his identity.
When a judge asked him if he had the educational background to represent himself in court, he refused to answer.
“With all due respect to the court, the question you asked is an identity question,” he said. “The state has alleged identity theft as part of their complaint. I believe, your honor, that the state has the burden of proof as to that.”
It is a tale ripped from Hollywood. U.S. Marshals who finally caught him believe he modeled his life after the famous imposter from the blockbuster Catch Me If You Can. A copy of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie was among the few personal possessions he kept at a Portland, Ore., boarding house.
Though he lacks the suave demeanor and dashing looks of DiCaprio’s character, no one involved in his capture would sell short his gifts as an alleged con man. As the head of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, he oversaw a sophisticated charity operation with chapters in 41 states and was so confident in his ability to give the Navy Vets organization the appearance of a genuine charity, he hired Helen Mac Murray, a former prosecutor of charity fraud in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, to represent the group.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire