Ohio jury has verdict in $100M charity fraud trial

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Associated Press

Posted on November 13, 2013 at 6:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 13 at 6:36 PM

CLEVELAND (AP) — A jury reached a verdict in the case against the alleged mastermind of a $100 million, cross-country Navy veterans charity fraud and will announce its decision Thursday morning.

Jurors reached their decision late Wednesday afternoon after about three hours of deliberation, but the judge delayed the announcement of the verdict because of trouble getting everyone back into court after-hours.

The defendant identifies himself as 67-year-old Bobby Thompson, but prosecutors say he is John Donald Cody, a 66-year-old Harvard-trained attorney.

The defendant, who showed up to court Wednesday again looking disheveled, didn't testify as planned. His attorney didn't call any witnesses and took the unusual step of skipping a closing statement to jurors to argue against conviction.

The attorney, Joseph Patituce, said the decision to waive a closing argument was meant to avoid rehashing the case and instead turn it over to the jury.

Brad Tammaro, an assistant Ohio attorney general, told jurors in a nearly two-hour closing argument that the defendant had never been Bobby Thompson.

"This defendant is John Donald Cody," who was drummed out of the Army and later claimed he was a Navy officer, said Tammaro. "He will always be John Donald Cody."

The state's evidence proved the charges, including identity fraud, Tammaro said.

While on the run as a fugitive, "He changed his appearance and he changed his name," Tammaro said.

The defendant changed his mind about testifying, because he was concerned about his physical and mental well-being if he faced an aggressive cross-examination, according to Patituce.

He appeared disheveled in court in the trial's final days, and Patituce said his client had bloodied himself last week banging his head on a courtroom holding cell, leaving a forehead mark.

Like Tuesday, the defendant entered the courtroom Wednesday with his shirt unbuttoned and his hair hanging down his face to his chin. The judge ordered him to button his shirt and suggested combing his hair before the jury entered. He buttoned up but left his hair looping down his face, prompting stares from jurors when they entered.

The defendant was charged with looting the United States Navy Veterans Association, a charity he ran from Tampa, Fla. The charity fraudulently registered with the state of Ohio in 2003 and made annual renewals, the prosecutor said.

The charges include racketeering, money laundering, records tampering, theft and identity theft.

Judge Steven Gall dismissed a single count — possession of criminal tools, or the fake IDs and documents found in Portland, Ore., at the time of the arrest there. Gall said there was insufficient evidence that such a crime had been committed in the court's jurisdiction.

Authorities believe the defendant defrauded donors of up to $100 million in 41 states since 2001, including $2 million in Ohio, on the guise of helping Navy veterans. A fraction of the money has been found.

The defendant showered politicians, often Republicans, with political donations. The judge rejected a defense request to subpoena testimony from leading Ohio Republicans, including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.

The defendant was indicted in 2010 and disappeared for nearly two years before being arrested last year in Portland, where investigators found a suitcase with $980,000 in cash.

Authorities said they traced the name Bobby Thompson to a man who wasn't connected to the charity case and had his identity stolen.

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