Feds: Notorious Alleged Con Man 'Bobby Thompson' Was Military Spy

Man accused of using bogus Navy veterans charity to swindle $100M.

October 1, 2012, 9:37 AM

Oct. 1, 2012 — -- Authorities revealed today that they believe "Bobby Thompson," the man accused of using a fake veterans charity to swindle more than $100 million and to rub shoulders with top-level Republicans, is actually a former military intelligence officer named John Donald Cody.

Officials said Cody has been on an FBI watch list for 25 years after being accused of various frauds and was wanted for questioning related to an espionage investigation.

U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott told reporters that he discovered Cody while searching through old FBI Wanted posters. He said details about the two identities kept matching up, from his unusual hairstyle, his history in the state of Arizona, and his knowledge of the law. Cody, Elliot said, had graduated from Harvard Law School.

The Marshal said Cody spent years evading arrest before he assumed the Thompson persona.

"We always knew there was a reason Thompson signed his name as Mr. X and did not want to be identified," Elliott said. "Now we know why."

But former FBI profiler and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said it still may not be that simple.

"Considering what we know about this guy, even the facts the Marshals believe they have about Cody could later turn out to be false," Garrett said.

The man known as Thompson was nabbed in Ohio in May. At the time, he was accused of being the mastermind behind the fake charity U.S. Navy Veterans Association that swindled more than $100 million from unsuspecting donors, as detailed in an ABC News investigation. Prosecutors charged Thompson with identity theft, fraud, and money laundering.

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.

READ the original ABC News report on the Navy Veterans charity.

Thompson led authorities on a cross-country manhunt that a U.S. Marshal called the "one of our most challenging fugitive investigations to date."

But even after he was caught, the man proved to be a challenge for officials. When taken to court days after his arrest, the man then-known as Thompson dared prosecutors to discover his identity.

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."

PHOTOS: The Life of 'Con Man' Bobby Thompson

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 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.

Ultimately, Marshals said they used a combination of Google searching, intuition and a set of 1969 military fingerprints to solve the mystery of Thompson's real identity.

Elliott said that after he saw the striking similarities to Thompson in photos of Cody, other details all started to add up.

Investigators had found bottles of eye drops in the Portland, Ore., apartment where Thompson had been hiding at the time of his arrest. They later learned that Cody was missing tear ducts and needed drops to keep his eyes moist.

Thompson's knowledge of the law in representing himself in court earlier this year also struck the investigators as curious. They later confirmed that Cody graduated from the University of Virginia and Harvard Law School. And there was the pompadour hairstyle that Thompson wore, on display in Cody's photos as well.

"I believe man is always a creature of habit no matter what identity he undertakes," Elliott said.

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