Over seven years, the man known by the name Bobby C. Thompson raised $100 million from donors believing they were supporting American Navy veterans and their families. Then he disappeared.
The two-year manhunt for the mysterious fugitive, who had amassed dozens of false identities as he moved from city to city, ended last week with his capture in Portland, Oregon. On Thursday, he was heard in court for the first time, and his defiant message was no surprise to the authorities he eluded and the people he had tricked: He still doesn't want anyone to know who he is.
For more on Bobby Thompson, watch 'Nightline' tonight.
When a judge asked him if he had the educational background to represent himself in court, he refused to answer. "With all due respect to the court, the question you asked is an identity question," he said. "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."
Anyone with information regarding "Thompson's" identity is encouraged to contact the U.S. Marshals Service for the Northern District of Ohio at: 1-866-4-WANTED or text keyword WANTED and the tip to 847411 (tip411). Tipsters may remain anonymous and a cash reward may be available.
The story of how the sixtysomething man evaded capture defies the odds in an era of where so much personal information is collected, packaged, monitored and stored. And the mysteries surrounding his background and the fate of the tens of millions he is alleged to have stolen remain vexing questions for police to this day.
"He signs his name 'Mr. X' and he still to this day will not say who he is," said Pete Elliott, the U.S. Marshal who oversaw the manhunt. "Everything this individual has ever said appears to be a lie."
It is a tale ripped from Hollywood. U.S. Marshals who finally caught him believe he modeled his life after the famous imposter from the blockbuster "Catch Me If You Can." A copy of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie was among the few personal possessions he kept at a Portland boarding house.
Though he lacks the suave demeanor and dashing looks of DiCaprio's character, no one involved in his capture would sell short his gifts as an alleged con man. As the head of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, he oversaw a sophisticated charity operation with chapters in 41 states, and rubbed shoulders with prominent politicians -- even attending fundraisers and posing for photos with President George W. Bush, future House Speaker John Boehner, and U.S. Sen. John McCain.
He was so confident in his ability to give the Navy Vets organization the appearance of a genuine charity, he hired Helen Mac Murray, a former prosecutor of charity fraud in the Ohio Attorney General's Office, to represent the group. As the attorney for the group she was convinced he was legit.
"It reminds me of the Madoff scheme," she said. "He was able to convince a lot of really smart, sophisticated people."
In 2010, after a local newspaper began asking why they couldn't find any of the Navy officers he listed as board members, she vigorously defended him -- even guiding his charity successfully through an IRS audit. But when she started to see evidence he had practiced signing fake signatures of the charity officers, she went to the FBI with her suspicions.
Mac Murray was one of the last people to see Thompson before he walked out of a New York City hotel lobby and disappeared.