(CLEVELAND) — The mysterious mustachioed man called Bobby Thompson, accused of a $100 million charity swindle, refused Tuesday to take the stand in his own defense, in what was the latest twist in a bizarre cross-country case.
With his client looking unkempt and withdrawn in court, the attorney for the man whose real name is John Donald Cody, but who uses a variety of aliases including Mr. X, said Cody would not testify as previously scheduled because he “would not be able to survive” cross examination.
Cody has never explained what happened to the $100 million he raised over years as the head of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Ohio officials have alleged it was a bogus charity and said the money disappeared when Cody did in 2010, before he was tracked down by U.S. Marshals last spring.
Cody was scheduled to take the stand in his own defense for the first time Tuesday. His attorney had promised the jury that Cody would explain how the charity was part of a secret, CIA-blessed operation.
But when the hour arrived for him to testify, an Ohio state judge had to order him to be forcibly extracted from his cell in shackles. And when the man who once hobnobbed at fundraisers with former President George W. Bush and high-profile U.S. senators finally entered the courtroom, he looked more like a homeless vagabond — his dress shirt unbuttoned, his hair wildly disheveled, his eyes glazed.
“What is your desire sir? Do you intend to testify on your own behalf, or not?” Judge Steven Gall asked.
Cody remained stone silent.
After repeated attempts to get an answer, Cody finally asked the judge for time to clean himself up and consult his lawyer. The judge agreed and dismissed the court for a break. When they returned, Cody sported a clean suit, but his matted hair hung in strands over his face.
His lawyer told the judge that, after consulting Cody, the defendant had made up his mind — he would not testify. It was, his lawyer said later, a huge blow to the case, given the promises made to the jury.
Instead of finally hearing from Cody, lawyers were told to proceed to closing arguments, with the case poised to go to the jury this week.
The trial has been underway for a month, but Cody’s testimony was expected 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 President Bush, and to pose for photographs with political leaders including Sen. John McCain and House Speaker Sen. John Boehner.
It was a tale ripped from Hollywood. U.S. Marshals who finally caught him believe Cody 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 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.”
Cody’s attorney, Joseph Patituce, previously told ABC News his client believes he was working as part of an elaborate CIA plot to court political support.
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.
Patituce said his client was expecting U.S. intelligence officials to bail him out of trouble after U.S. Marshals tracked him down in Portland, Oregon 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.
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