Man accused of identity fraud in charity scam
Photographs of U.S. Navy Veterans director Bobby C. Thompson, left, and Bobby (no middle initial) Thompson, a 67-year-old retired metalworker, right.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters announced that a nationwide arrest warrant for identity fraud has been issued for the man claiming to be “Bobby Thompson,” director of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA), a supposed charity based in Florida.
“Thompson” disappeared in June amid a growing number of state investigations into the organization’s fundraising and spending, including revelations that the man who appears to have orchestrated this sham charity made hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to candidates throughout the United States and in Ohio.
“Our investigators have determined that this individual stole the identity of someone else and used that as the centerpiece of an apparent scam that has continued for seven years and involved tens of millions of dollars,” Cordray said. “The real Bobby Thompson, whose identity was stolen, including his Social Security number and date of birth, has absolutely no connection to the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. We don’t know who this individual is yet, but we do know that he is not Bobby Thompson.”
The Hamilton County arrest warrant is based on evidence that this individual used a false identity in the process of renting a UPS mailbox in Cincinnati in 2003. The mailbox was used as a collection point for donations to the charity. Since 2003, Ohioans have contributed close to $1.9 million to the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.
On May 28, Cordray ordered the USNVA to stop contacting Ohio residents for contributions after determining that the group’s registration documents were plagued with irregularities. Those documents contain false and misleading information, including the names of association officers who also appear to be fictional.
The Charitable Law section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has obtained court orders freezing the Ohio bank accounts of the USNVA as well as the organization’s UPS mailboxes in Hamilton and Fairfield counties. There appears to be very little evidence that the organization spent money actually helping veterans or their families. Yet public records do show hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to various candidates made by “Bobby Thompson” personally or through the political action committee he created and to which he was the sole contributor, NAVPAC.
In 2008, a St. Petersburg Times reporter, Jeff Testerman, was looking into a local political story when he noticed the U.S. Navy Veterans Association was a contributor to a local county commissioner’s campaign.
Seeking a quote from the group, Jeff made multiple calls, leaving multiple messages. But in six months of searching, despite 85 USNVA board members, they could only find one of them: Bobby Thompson.
A Happenstance Confrontation
Jeff made the quick trip over to Thompson’s modest Ybor City home and saw Thompson pacing out in front of his home, talking on his cell phone. Jeff asked him a few questions for the story he was investigating, which had little to do with Thompson himself. But Thompson immediately got defensive, going off on a 30-minute diatribe accusing Jeff of using yellow journalism tactics.
A veteran investigative reporter for the Times, Jeff knew something was not right about Thompson, and he intended to find out what it was.
Jeff and his investigative team looked into the organization for six months, and he found a number of very odd things:
-The Association wouldn’t disclose where the tens of millions of dollars went.
-The Times couldn’t find any of the 83 people listed as board members and executives on the tax forms filed with the IRS to claim tax-exempt status.
-The Association’s purported headquarters, at 1718 M St., Washington, D.C, was little more than a rented mailbox at a UPS Store.
-Why did the director of a multi-million dollar charity organization live in a dilapidated duplex across from a cigar factory?
Jeff had many questions for the U.S. Navy Vets Association, and there were even more questions about Bobby Thompson himself. But he would learn that the more answers he got, the more questions it would raise.
The Commander Of Nothing
It wasn’t as if Thompson was keeping a low profile. He’s taken pictures with a who’s who of American politics: Sens. John Boehner and John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Karl Rove, and even former President George W. Bush — twice. They posed in front of the cameras at some of Washington’s most high-profile fundraisers and political events.
Jeff’s investigation also revealed that back in 2000, Thompson began a political action committee called Navy Veterans for Good Government, or NAVPAC. Over the years, NAVPAC contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars, overwhelmingly to Republican Party campaigns.
Shortly after Jeff started asking questions, NAVPAC shut down, donating its remaining funds to the Navy Veterans Association.
As the Times story got out, the IRS and states with USNVA chapters in various states began to take notice, launching their own investigations. Ohio charged Thompson with corruption, theft, and money laundering charges.
But there’s one problem with charging Bobby Thompson with those crimes. The man behind the U.S. Navy Veterans Association is not Bobby Thompson. Authorities say he had stolen that identity and that of another man, Ronnie Brittain.
The man who penetrated the highest levels of government, shook hands with our nation’s top leaders, and allegedly stole millions of dollars in the name of charity, is nothing more than a ghost.
His real name, like his whereabouts, are presently unknown. Anyone with information about this individual or his whereabouts is asked to contact the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation at (740) 845-2224 or (800) 282-3784.
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