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Navy veterans scam case: Suspect ID'd as Harvard-trained lawyer

October 01, 2012
  • John Donald Cody, a.k.a. Bobby Thompson, according to officials, appears at a hearing in Cuyahoga County Court in Cleveland.
John Donald Cody, a.k.a. Bobby Thompson, according to officials, appears… (Amy Sancetta / Associated…)

The mysterious man at the center of a sprawling, multimillion-dollar fraud case against a Navy veterans charity has been identified as a Harvard Law School graduate who had been missing and wanted since the 1980s.

At a Monday news conference in Cleveland, U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott identified the real name of “Bobby Charles Thompson,” who ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Assn. and who went on the lam after the authorities opened an investigation into the charity in 2010.

The man’s real name, he said, is John Donald Cody, 65.

Cody -- under his identity as Thompson -- has been in custody since April as authorities tried to figure out his true identity and as the case against him moved forward.

The U.S. Navy Veterans Assn. was set up several years ago to provide help to Navy veterans around the country. But it appears that little if any of the millions donated to the charity actually ended up in the hands of those it was supposed to support. Reporters couldn’t prove that 85 of the organization’s officers were actually real, and the group’s “offices” turned out to be a UPS mailbox in Washington, D.C.

In 2010, when the Ohio Attorney General’s Office opened a criminal investigation against the charity and its chairman, Bobby Charles Thompson, he got tipped off that the authorities were on his trail and vanished, officials said. But first, officials said, he withdrew money from the charity’s accounts.

Thompson was last spotted at an ATM in New York City withdrawing more money and wasn’t seen again until his April arrest in Portland, Ore.

According to Fox 8 in Cleveland, Thompson was captured with multiple Canadian fake IDs and a backpack with cash in it.

But authorities couldn’t figure out who he really was — until now.

At a Monday news conference in Cleveland, Elliott said he did some Googling and made a link between Thompson and a mysterious man with a similar pompadour who vanished after another accusation of fraud, according to the Associated Press.

Elliott found 1969 military fingerprints for John Donald Cody, 65, who had been wanted since 1987 on suspicion of multiple and diverse counts of fraud; the fingerprints had not been entered into the criminal fingerprints system.

‘‘This is definitely John Donald Cody,’’ Elliott said, according to the AP. ‘‘He’s a guy that thought, No. 1, he could never get caught, and No. 2, he would never be identified. And we were able to do both.’’

Cody’s FBI "Wanted" bio chisels out the tantalizing outline of a Hoboken, N.J.-born, Tagalog- and Italian-speaking man who was once a military intelligence officer in the Army. He's described as having a scar on his shoulder and a supposed lack of tear ducts, and he took to wearing a pompadour-style toupee and tanning himself until he was orange, the FBI says.

But for all the money that authorities have accused Cody of bilking from donors and his so-called charity — officials said he’s ripped off donors of up to $100 million in 41 states — court records in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, show that “Thompson” says he is too poor to afford an attorney.

"For years this suspect hid from the truth, but today, the truth has caught up with him," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is in charge of the prosecution, said in a statement Monday. "John Cody can no longer conceal his identity under the alias 'Bobby Thompson.' "

Joseph Patituce, the defendant's attorney, told the AP: ‘‘We believe that the state has a very weak case against our client, but we look forward to our day in court.”

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