Nov. 14, 2013
CLEVELAND -- An Ohio Jury convicted mysterious mustachioed man John Donald Cody, also known as Bobby Thompson, today for masterminding a $100 million charity scam that preyed on people's sympathy for American military veterans.
As Judge Steven E. Gall read the first the guilty verdicts on 23 charges against Cody, a sheriff's deputy stepped behind him and placed him in handcuffs. Cody stood stone faced as each count was read.
The charges of theft, fraud, money laundering and the use of false identities stemmed from Cody's stewardship of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, which raised millions, but when examined by authorities, offered little proof that money was used to assist veterans.
After the scheme fell apart, Cody, who had identified himself as a retired lieutenant commander named Bobby Thompson, went on the run for two years and was ultimately captured in Oregon. But even after his arrest, Cody refused to confirm his real name, going so far as to sign his name "Mr. X" on court papers.
Now, Cody, 66, faces a sentence of at least 10 years in prison, and possible as many as 80 years. Sentencing for the defendant is expected to take place next month.
The swift verdict came after a series of stunning twists this week in the bizarre month-long case. After the prosecution took weeks to build its case, Cody on Tuesday surprised even his own lawyer when he announced he would not testify as he was scheduled to.
After consulting with his client, Cody's lawyer informed the judge that his client "would not be able to survive" cross examination.
Then Wednesday, after prosecutors walked the jury meticulously through the charges in a two hour closing argument, Cody's lawyer revealed he was waiving his closing statement. In other words, Cody never mounted a defense.
His lawyer, Joseph Patituce said Cody signed off on the strategy, which appeared focused on preserving hope for an appeal. Patituce questioned whether his client received a fair trial, given he had only 30 days to prepare and was denied access to accounting and other experts.
"My advice would be definitely to appeal," Patituce said.
If there was a strategy behind the decision to mount no defense, it did not appear to be clear to the jury. Jurors looked stunned when the arguments ended without ever hearing an explanation from Cody.
Cody has never revealed, for instance, what happened to the $100 million he raised over years as the head of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Ohio officials have alleged it was a bogus charity and said the money disappeared when Cody did in 2010, before he was tracked down by U.S. Marshals last spring.
Moreover, his attorney had promised the jury that Cody would explain how the charity was part of a secret, CIA-blessed operation in which Cody was supposed to use the money to curry political favor. In a series of stunning photos from the mid-2000s, Cody was seen rubbing elbows with high-profile Republican figures like George W. Bush, House Speaker Sen. John Boehner and Sen. John McCain.
Both jury and judge also appeared perplexed with Cody's physical appearance this week. The man who once hobnobbed with the political elite entered the courtroom looking more like a homeless vagabond -- his dress shirt open, his hair wildly disheveled, his eyes glazed. At one point Wednesday, the judge admonished him to button his shirt properly and tuck it in.
For three years ABC News has chronicled Cody's curious case – his abrupt disappearance, the manhunt that led to his capture, and the puzzle that surrounded his identity – a mystery made all the more unsettling by his ability to gain access to the White House for an event with then-President Bush, and to pose for photographs with McCain and Boehner.
It was a tale ripped from Hollywood. U.S. Marshals who finally caught him believe Cody 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.
At the start of the trial, prosecutors told ABC News they believe the case against Cody boils down to a simple set of facts.
"A man that had no other source of income, had no job, no nothing … and as soon as questions are asked, he disappears with a suitcase?" said prosecutor Brad Tammaro of the Ohio Attorney General's office. "If I don't have a job other than as a trustee for this charity, and then I end up with a million dollars in a suitcase somewhere, there's the conclusion right there."
Patituce previously told ABC News his client believes he was working as part of an elaborate CIA plot to court political support and Cody's biography appears to offer hints of past work with the intelligence community. He carries a degree from Harvard Law School and was documented to have done a stint in military intelligence. And when he was ultimately identified by U.S. Marshals, it was in part because he had appeared on an FBI most wanted poster in connection to a decades-old charge of espionage.
Patituce said his client was expecting U.S. intelligence officials to bail him out of trouble after U.S. Marshals tracked him down in Portland, Oregon and brought him back to Cleveland to face the state fraud charges.
"He assumed that's what was going to happen," Patituce said. "That he would be pulled out of this by the people handling him."
That is why, the lawyer said, Cody repeatedly refused to identify himself when he was finally captured – signing his name only as "Mr. X" when he was checked into a Cleveland jail.