(CLEVELAND) — The public, and a jury, is about to hear for the first time directly from the mysterious mustachioed man and accused con artist known at various times as Bobby Thompson, or “The Commander,” or even just “Mr. X.”
The flamboyant man, whose real name is believed to be John Donald Cody, is expected to take the stand Tuesday morning in a Cleveland courtroom. He is accused of running a bogus U.S. Navy veterans charity for years, using some of the proceeds for political donations to high-ranking politicians including former President George W. Bush and Speaker of the House John Boehner, and eventually vanishing with over $100 million in ill-gotten cash.
Prosecutors say Cody ran the whole scheme using false identities to hide his alleged crimes, and to mask his escape from Florida to Oregon, where he was finally taken into custody last May after what a U.S. Marshal called “one of our most challenging fugitive investigations to date.”
On the stand, Cody is expected for the first time to explain how he came to run the nationwide charity called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association and, according to his attorney, explain how the charity operation was blessed by the CIA as part of an elaborate plot to court political support.
“He’s legitimately some form of American intelligence,” Cody’s attorney, Joseph Patituce, told ABC News previously, adding that his client is “not a kook.”
Cody’s biography appears to offer hints of past work with the intelligence community — he carries a degree from Harvard Law School and was documented to have done a stint in military intelligence. And when he was ultimately identified by U.S. Marshals, it was in part because he had appeared on an FBI most wanted poster in connection to a decades-old charge of espionage.
The trial has been underway for a month, but Cody’s testimony is likely to be the latest dramatic chapter in a saga of intrigue that began to unfold three years ago when questions first surfaced about the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.
Over those years, ABC News chronicled Cody’s curious case — his abrupt disappearance, the manhunt that led to his capture, and the puzzle that surrounded his identity — a mystery made all the more unsettling by his ability to gain access to the White House for an event with Bush, and to pose for photographs with political leaders including Sen. John McCain and Boehner.
It was 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.
At the start of the trial, prosecutors told ABC News they believe the case against Cody boils down to a simple set of facts.
“A man that had no other source of income, had no job, no nothing…and as soon as questions are asked, he disappears with a suitcase?” said prosecutor Brad Tammaro of the Ohio Attorney General’s office. “If I don’t have a job other than as a trustee for this charity, and then I end up with a million dollars in a suitcase somewhere, there’s the conclusion right there.”
Patituce said his client, referencing the CIA story, was expecting U.S. intelligence officials to bail him out of trouble after U.S. Marshals tracked him down in Portland and brought him back to Cleveland to face the state fraud charges.
“He assumed that’s what was going to happen,” Patituce said. “That he would be pulled out of this by the people handling him.”
That is why, the lawyer said, Cody repeatedly refused to identify himself when he was finally captured — signing his name only as “Mr. X” when he was checked into a Cleveland jail.
On Tuesday, Cody will have the chance to convince a jury the strange tale is the truth, while facing down some very skeptical prosecutors.
“I think there’s as much evidence of that [the CIA story] as he is a NASA astronaut,” Tamarro said.
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