May 8, 2012: Bobby Thompson appears at a hearing at Cuyahoga County Court in Cleveland. Cuyahoga County Judge Steven Gall turned down requests on Sept. 27, 2013, to subpoena leading Ohio and national Republicans in the case of a man accused of bilking $100 million from donors to a fund for Navy veterans. Among those that defendant Thompson was trying to force to testify were Speaker of the House John Boehner, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and two previous Ohio attorneys general. (AP/Amy Sancetta, File)
CLEVELAND – A former fugitive accused of masterminding a $100 million multi-state fraud scheme under the guise of helping Navy veterans is on trial in Cleveland.
The defendant in court on Monday after two years on the run calls himself Bobby Thompson, but authorities have identified him as Harvard-trained lawyer and former military intelligence officer John Donald Cody.
Cody, 67, who was arrested last year in Portland, Ore., is charged with defrauding people who donated to a reputed charity for Navy veterans, the United States Navy Veterans Association based in Tampa, Fla.
The alleged scheme spanned 41 states and authorities said little -- if any -- of the money collected by the charity was used to benefit veterans. Cody allegedly showered politicians, many of them Republicans, with political donations. His defense team had sought to force testimony by recipients to show his actions were legal, but a judge rejected the move last week.
His attorney said any fraud involved solicitors, not his client.
As the trial opened, the judge in Cleveland rejected a renewed defense request to subpoena U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine -- whose office is prosecuting Cody -- and other leading Ohio politicians.
But Brad Tammaro, an assistant attorney general handling the trial, said where the money went was unrelated to the charges of money laundering and theft.
Cody's attorney, Joseph Patituce, hinted at a defense focused on the CIA and government secrets, but Tammaro said that if "by some fantasy" there was such government involvement, it did not exonerate the defendant.
Patituce said he didn't want to tip the defense strategy but said it would involve the CIA and a secretive operation decades ago in Arizona.
The judge indicated both sides had tried to resolve the case before trial, but, when questioned by the judge, Patituce said nothing had developed.
Cody was dressed in a suit and tie and passed notes to his attorney during final motions. Jury selection began afterward.
Patituce said he needed more time to prepare and cited the 20,000 documents which must be reviewed. The judge said the trial would move ahead.
Authorities said Cody used his VIP political connections to encourage donors to give to his charity. While on the run, investigators tracked him through Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia.
Other Republicans who received donations from Cody include former President George W. Bush and presidential contenders Mitt Romney, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the newspaper reports.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.