Veterans groups are warning the public to distinguish between their legitimate efforts to support returning American troops, and the questionable motives of a rogue group called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, which is being investigated in at least nine states on allegations of fraud and deception.
The group and its fugitive leader, who went by the name Bobby Thompson and is the subject of a nationwide manhunt, was described by Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as doing "in the charitable sphere what Bernie Madoff did in the investment sphere. It's shocking, and it's discouraging and it's depressing to think so many people wanted to give to veterans and in fact they were giving to this man and his sham organization."
Thompson collected as much as $100 million over the past decade from donors who thought they were contributing to a legitimate veterans service organization, according to Cordray, and 99 percent of the funds are now unaccounted for. After last night's ABC News report on Thompson, legitimate veterans groups said they were stepping up their efforts to alert the public about the alleged scam, and help those seeking to help veterans identify legitimate ways to do so.
"The Bobby Thompson scam has caused significant damage to small non-profits and we hope the Ohio attorney general finds him and prosecutes him," said Paul Sullivan, of Veterans for Common Sense.
Sullivan called the alleged rip off an outrage. "If he were truly in the Navy, we would keelhaul him," he told ABC News.
"As a Navy veteran I am deeply angered by the actions of someone who would defraud Veterans and Americans who support them," said Robert Jackson, executive director of Military Families United, a national military advocacy organization. "The actions of this anti-patriot should not be tolerated and it is my hope that he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Perhaps most concerned were the directors of The Navy and Marine Association, which is a legitimate charitable group with a name very similar to the one being investigated by state authorities. The Navy and Marine Association, which operates a website at Navymarineassociation.org, describes itself as "active duty, retired military and proud Americans, who serve without compensation. We are volunteers, who provide support for Sailors and Marines and their families."
It is not associated in any way with the allegedly fraudulent group, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.
Another legitimate group dedicated to supporting American Veterans, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, has distributed a checklist of steps to take to prevent being scammed:
Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors
1) Be Proactive In Your Giving
Take time to identify which causes are most important to you and your family.
2) Hang Up The Phone / Eliminate The Middleman
Hang up, investigate the charity on-line and send contributions directly to the charity, thereby cutting out the middleman and ensuring 100 percent of your donation reaches the charity.
3) Be Careful Of Imposters and Sound-Alike Names
Donors are easily confused by charities that have deceptively similar names to others. Uncover the difference.
4) Confirm 501(c) (3) Status