The man accused of setting up a fake Navy Veterans charity and siphoning away tens of millions of dollars pleaded not guilty in an Ohio courtroom Tuesday, but still has refused to identify himself.
"If he wants to go by the name 'Mr. X,' we'll prosecute him as 'Mr. X,' " said prosecutor Brad L. Tammaro, chief legal counsel for the Ohio Attorney General.
The judge addressed the defendant as Bobby Thompson, an identity that he allegedly stole from a Washington state man. "Thompson" appeared in the courtroom in an orange jump suit, shackles, handcuffs, and a pair of black Crocs. Through his court-appointed lawyer, Mark Stanton, he pleaded not guilty and revealed that he wishes to serve as his own attorney.
He uttered only three words at the very end of his arraignment, when the judge asked him to affirm that he wishes to represent himself. "Yes, your honor," was his quiet reply.
After two years as a fugitive, the stout man with slicked back dark hair and a pronounced limp, who is believed to be in his 60s, was captured by U.S. Marshals as he returned to his rented room from a Portland, Oregon bar.
As detailed in an ABC News investigation last year, the mustachioed man known as Thompson was charged in Ohio in 2010 on counts of identity theft, fraud, and money laundering in connection with his allegedly bogus charity, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Authorities believe the charity raised more than $100 million from unsuspecting donors around the country.
To help enhance the charity's credibility, Thompson allegedly used some of the money to make large campaign contributions to prominent politicians, most of them Republicans, including President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, and Ohio Rep. John Boehner, now Speaker of the House. He attended events with the political figures, and posed proudly for now infamous photos with them.
Stanton attempted to win Thompson's release on bond, but prosecutors told the judge that the man's identity remains a mystery, and that he is believed to have hidden stashes of millions in cash and could be counted on to flee. Already, noted Tammaro, U.S. Marshals had discovered a storage locker that contained a suitcase filled with $1 million in cash.
"Mr. Thompson, as he sits here today, has eluded capture for almost two years," Tammaro told Judge Hollie L. Gallagher. "He has traveled quite extensively."
The judge agreed, and ordered him held without bond.
The first questions began surfacing about Thompson's veterans' charity in 2009, when the St. Petersburg Times discovered that none of the members of the charity's board could be located, and its addresses seemed only to lead to post office boxes. Most of the money the charity had purported to raise was unaccounted for, and as authorities began following up on the reports, Thompson vanished.
Last fall, Florida lawmaker Darryl Rouson told ABC News he had initially helped the man he thought was Bobby Thompson. "He seemed to be a knowledgeable man about politics and community affairs," Rouson said. "He was engaging, jovial. I had no reason to suspect he was anything other than who he said he was."
Bobby Thompson Tracked to New York, Boston and Oregon
Thompson had last been seen in the lobby of a New York City hotel as Ohio authorities had begun investigating the veterans' charity. Ohio officials said Thompson had stolen the identity of a real man named Bobby Thompson from Washington state. He also had an identity card from the state of Indiana issued under the name of a man from New Mexico named Ronnie Brittain, they added. The real Ronnie Brittain is the head of a veterans group in New Mexico.
Marshals based in Ohio took over the manhunt last year, with Elliott heading up the effort. Elliott told the Times :"We went to Arizona, West Virginia, Washington state, Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. He was on the move the whole time. We went from being 10 steps behind him to being five steps to being one step."
Elliott had noted in an interview with ABC News that the fugitive was "believed to be a heavy drinker."
"Thompson" was apprehended on his way out of a Portland, Oregon bar.
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.