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28-year sentence in $100M vets charity scam

Dec. 16, 2013 - 04:39PM   |  
John Donald Cody
John Donald Cody speaks during his sentencing on racketeering, theft, money laundering charges on Monday in Cleveland. Cody, using the stolen identity Bobby Thompson, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for defrauding donors of up to $100 million in 41 states through the United States Navy Veterans Association, a charity he ran in Tampa, Fla. (Mark Duncan / AP)
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CLEVELAND — A judge handed down a 28-year prison sentence Monday to a man convicted of masterminding a $100 million, cross-country Navy veterans charity fraud.

Judge Steven Gall also ordered the defendant, who identifies himself as 67-year-old Bobby Thompson, to pay a $6 million fine. Authorities say the defendant is Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody.

The Ohio attorney general’s office, which handled his trial, asked the judge in a filing last week to sentence him to 41 years in prison.

The judge rejected a request for a new trial. The defense had said comments by jurors after the verdict that they were disappointed he hadn’t testified showed they were biased against him.

The defendant, whose appearance in court Monday was neat in contrast to the final days of his trial, slumped in his chair as the sentence was read. He complained to the judge about alleged abusive treatment by jailers while locked up during the trial.

There was no immediate response from the sheriff’s department. Jailers said earlier that the defendant had acted erratically and had bloodied his forehead smashing it against a holding cell wall.

The judge said the crimes had harmed veterans who were the intended beneficiaries of the donations and also had hurt other charities as donors became skeptical of giving.

“Everyone’s afraid to give,” Gall said.

He said the sentence reflected the length, extent and amount of the charity “charade.”

Defense attorney Joseph Patituce said after the verdict and again after the sentencing that ineffective legal representation issues stemming from limited preparation time might be a basis for an appeal.

His client denies committing the crimes, Patituce said.

The defense hinted at a CIA covert operation and showed jurors photos of the defendant with President George W. Bush, suggesting Thompson was acting with government sanction.

Thompson was convicted Nov. 14 of racketeering, theft, money laundering and 12 counts of identity theft. The prosecutor showed jurors identification cards with the defendant’s photo but different names and issued by government agencies and companies in numerous states.

Thompson sat upright, taking notes during much of his trial but turned unpredictable in the final few days, appearing in court with his shirt unbuttoned to his waist and uncombed hair hanging down his face.

The judge, who expressed irritation with Thompson over his appearance, issued an order that he be “dressed, groomed and showered” by 8 a.m. on trial days and directed deputies to bring him to court “by any means necessary.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office asked that $330,778 of the seized money cover investigation and trial costs.

The office also wants $650,871.30 for a default judgment order, with the money going to veterans charities, according to Dan Tierney, a DeWine spokesman.

An additional $101,000 seized from Thompson has already been distributed by Ohio to veterans charities.

The onetime fugitive signaled he would testify at trial but changed his mind.

The fraud occurred in 41 states, according to trial testimony, and Ohio took the lead, indicting Thompson in 2010. He disappeared for nearly two years and was arrested last year in Portland, Ore.

He was convicted of looting the United States Navy Veterans Association, a charity he ran in Tampa, Fla.

Only a fraction of the $100 million was found. When Thompson was arrested, authorities found fake IDs and a suitcase with $980,000 in cash.

Records show the defendant had showered politicians, often Republicans, with political donations.

Politicians who received donations from him, according to campaign finance filings, include Bush and former presidential contenders Mitt Romney, John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani.

The defendant was identified through military fingerprint records.

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