CLEVELAND – A man charged in a suspected $100 million Navy charity fraud showed off his political connections through souvenir mugs featuring photos of himself with former President George W. Bush, a witness testified Wednesday.
The defendant identifies himself as Bobby Thompson. Authorities, however, say he is a 67-year-old Harvard-trained attorney and former military intelligence officer named John Donald Cody, who used his connections to encourage donations to the charity.
Gary Steen of Tampa, Fla., testified about dental work he did for Thompson. According to Steen, Thompson expressed his appreciation for the work by giving him three coffee mugs showing him with a smiling Bush.
"I was impressed that he was in contact with Bush," the witness said, underscoring the prosecution's contention.
The defense says Thompson's connections show the legitimacy of the charity, the United States Navy Veterans Association of Tampa. In an attempt by the defense to show that Thompson's relationships were authentic, Steen was shown a poster-size photo similar to the one on the coffee mugs. He said he wasn't sure where it was taken, but it was apparently in a formal setting.
Thompson showered politicians, often Republicans, with donations. Last week, the judge rejected a renewed defense request to subpoena testimony from leading Ohio Republicans including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.
Thompson was indicted in 2010 and disappeared for almost two years. He was arrested last year in Portland, Ore., where agents and deputy marshals found him with fake IDs and a suitcase containing $980,000 in cash.
The former legal adviser to the charity, Helen Mac Murray, testified Tuesday in detail about how Thompson repeatedly rejected her attempts to meet board members and top executives of the charity, arguing it was unnecessary.
"He did not feel the association had an obligation" to disclose its top leadership, Mac Murray told jurors.
Simultaneously, Mac Murray said Thompson pretended to be emailing association leaders and sent her copies. She said that happened several dozen times.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Joseph Patituce's line of questioning raised a possible reason for the multiple ID cards under different names — a secret government program.
Asked what she heard from Thompson about his background, Mac Murray said he had worked in military intelligence. And, she said, he had "some ongoing role" with the CIA, but there was no elaboration.
Patituce has said the defense might hinge in part on such an angle.