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Ohio trial to begin over $100 million U.S. Navy charity fraud

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Reuters) - Opening statements are scheduled to begin in Ohio on Monday in the trial of a man accused of running a scam charitable organization for U.S. Navy veterans that defrauded donors from 40 states of nearly $100 million.

State attorneys have charged the man, who was indicted under the name Bobby Thompson but is accused of using other aliases, with identity fraud, complicity to money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Thompson, 67, ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA), a bogus charitable organization headquartered in Florida. It claimed to "provide assistance to veterans" and collected nearly $2 million in Ohio alone, according to the Ohio Attorney General's office, which spent years investigating the association.

Ohio prosecutors say that little, if any, of the tens of millions of dollars Thompson raised through this association actually went to veterans or active members of the military.

The case against Thompson grew more complicated following his arrest in Portland, Oregon, in 2012. He was eventually identified as John Donald Cody, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former member of the U.S. Army's military intelligence unit who was a cold-case fugitive wanted by the FBI since 1987.

Under the name Cody, he had appeared on the FBI's most wanted list as part of an "ongoing espionage investigation."

Thompson was found with numerous fake IDs and a large amount of cash when he was arrested. He initially refused to reveal his real name, signing court documents in the name of "Mr. X," according to authorities.

Pete Elliot, a U.S. Marshall in Cleveland, said Cody was known for his pompadour, a missing finger tip and a penchant for tanning himself to an orange hue - traits that Thompson also shared.

U.S. authorities have charged Cody with stealing from an estate in 1987, when he was a lawyer practicing in Arizona. The case is pending.

Thompson's attorney, Joe Patituce, has said Thompson legally changed his name from Cody, and argued that his client did not break the law when he used telemarketing firms that collected 90 cents on the dollar to solicit donations for his charity.

"There is no evidence of any RICO violations or corruption or theft," Patituce told Reuters in an interview, referring to a federal law called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. "There is no deception, donors knew that funds would be given to politicians for lobbying."

Last week, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Gall ruled against Thompson's attempt to subpoena numerous Republican politicians from Ohio, including John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, who received political donations from the USNVA.

Thompson's alleged co-conspirator is serving a five-year prison sentence in Ohio for her role in this scam after pleading guilty in June 2011.

(Editing by Edith Honan and Christopher Wilson)

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