On the last day of April, after a nationwide search that lasted almost two years, law enforcement officials from Ohio finally nabbed “Bobby Thompson,” one of America’s most-wanted fugitives, a man suspected of stealing millions from the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, a charity whose stated mission was to help veterans and members of the U.S. armed forces. But even now that he’s behind bars, awaiting trial on a host of charges, no one knows who Bobby Thompson really is.From the early 2000s until 2010, Thompson — an alias — and at least one other associate took in almost $100 million in donations from people in forty-one states for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, which was a sham organization. Along the way, Thompson attended fundraisers and meet-and-greets where he stood shoulder to shoulder and took photographs with the most powerful Republican politicians in the country, including President George W. Bush, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Thompson also gave generously to the campaigns of several Republican political candidates, like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who later gave the donations away to real charities. (There’s no indication they knew they were getting money from a conman.)
Authorities believe little, if any, of the money given to the U.S. Navy Veterans Association ever actually benefited veterans or service members. In June 2010, after learning that he was the subject of a criminal investigation, Thompson vanished. Two months later, he was charged in Ohio with various fraud-related offenses. (An associate, Blanca Contreras, plead guilty in June 2011 and is currently serving a five-year sentence.) Thompson changed his appearance and lived under several assumed names — including Anderson Yazzie, Alan Reace Lacy, Kenneth D. Morsette, and Dale Anderson Booqua — during his time on the run. He was ultimately tracked down in Portland, Oregon following the formation, last November, of a task force led by U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott, which chased leads in states including Massachusetts, Arizona, New Mexico, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Florida. Late on the night of April 30, Thompson was arrested outside his residence on 72nd St. NE in Portland. According to the U.S. Marshals, Thompson was in possession of several false American and Canadian IDs at the time. (It also should be noted that he was busted by Ohio authorities while wearing a University of Michigan sweatshirt.) A subsequent search of a nearby storage facility rented under one of Thompson’s other fake names turned up several birth certificates and nearly one million dollars in cash.
Officials say Thompson, now apparently in his 60s, was in “poor physical condition” and walking with a cane when he was arrested. But any physical frailty hasn’t made him any more willing to give up his real name.
“It’s my right under the U.S. Constitution not to make any statements,” Thompson said as he was being handcuffed and, apart from what he has said in court, those are the only words he has spoken to investigators since. When given documents to sign, he marked them with an “X.” He has twice made, and twice withdrawn, requests to represent himself in court.
“With all due respect to the court, the question you asked is an identity question,” Thompson said last Thursday, after a Cuyahoga County Court judge in Ohio asked him if he had the educational background to represent himself, according to ABC News. “The state has alleged identity theft as part of their complaint. I believe, your honor, that the state has the burden of proof as to that.”
Thompson now has a court-appointed lawyer.
Meanwhile, investigators are still trying to determine Thompson’s real identity. His fingerprints have not turned up any matches, and investigators are asking the public for assistance.
“Someone out there knows the true identity of ‘Bobby Thompson’ and we are asking for your help to identify this individual who was one of Americas most wanted fugitives but whose true identity still remains a mystery,” the U.S. Marshal’s said in a statement earlier this month. “Anyone with information regarding the true identity of this fugitive is encouraged to contact the U.S. Marshals Service at: 1-866-4-WANTED.”
Even if they can’t pin down who he really is, prosecutors say they will be able to try him.
“We know this gentleman… who has gone by the name of Bobby Thompson, is the gentlemen who we believe has committed these crimes,” Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, told TPM on Friday. “If the system produces a conviction, he will serve time.”
Last week, forensic scientists with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation began testing the evidence seized in Portland.
Thompson pleaded not guilty to the 22 charges against him last Tuesday. He remains in jail without bond.
Did you ever meet “Bobby Thompson”? We want to hear from you. Send an email to: ericl[at]talkingpointsmemo.com