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Man Held in Bilking of USC Charity

June 15, 2002|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Arcadia man who established a foundation that he promised would give $2.5 million to USC's Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center was arrested by federal agents Friday on charges of embezzling donations intended for the facility.

David Frederick Thornton, 36, also was charged with carrying out other scams in which he allegedly posed as a doctor, a diplomat, an FBI agent and a CIA operative.

He was being held without bail on charges of embezzlement, wire fraud, credit card fraud, check fraud and impersonating federal officers.

The U.S. attorney's office provided only sketchy details of the case against Thornton.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Curtis A. Kin said Thornton embezzled more than $147,000 in donations that were supposed to have been funneled to the Norris center through his Thornton Kidney Research Foundation, which he founded in 1990.

Thornton continued to solicit money for the Norris center, pocketing the proceeds, after USC severed its relationship with him in 1998, Kin said.

Officials at the Norris center could not be reached for comment Friday.

In a 1990 profile in The Times, Thornton spoke about his gratitude to doctors at the center for having diagnosed his rare kidney disease.

He said he had received conflicting diagnoses from 26 physicians before doctors at the USC facility correctly diagnosed his illness and removed one of his kidneys.

Then 24, Thornton said he wanted to show his appreciation by raising $2.5 million to endow a research suite and a professorship at the Norris center. Kin said Thornton raised only a fraction of the money he promised. He declined to reveal how much cash the Norris center actually received.

In the other alleged scams, Kin said Thornton conned friends and family members into investing in bogus business dealings that he claimed to have with the Nigerian government.

Thornton also was accused of trying to cash a counterfeit $25-million check supposedly issued by Union Bank of Nigeria to his kidney research foundation.

His arrest grew out of an investigation by the Secret Service's international fraud task force with help from the Arcadia and Pasadena police departments.

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