CLEVELAND (AP) — A onetime fugitive charged in a suspected $100 million charity fraud highlighted his GOP-leaning political connections and tried to duck state audits, witnesses testified Wednesday at his trial as the prosecution tried to show that the charity wasn’t what he made it out to be.
The defendant, who identifies himself as Bobby Thompson, ran the United States Navy Veterans Association of Tampa, Fla. Authorities say he is a 67-year-old Harvard-trained attorney and former military intelligence officer named John Donald Cody.
The first witness of the day, Gary Steen of Tampa, Fla., testified about $30,000 worth of dental work he did for Thompson and said Thompson showed his appreciation with a gift of three coffee mugs showing him with a smiling President George W. Bush.
“I was impressed that he was in contact with Bush,” Steen said, underscoring the prosecution’s contention that the defendant used his VIP connections to prod donors.
The defense counters that Thompson’s connections show the legitimacy of the charity.
In an attempt by defense lawyers to show that Thompson’s relationships were authentic, Steen was shown a poster-size photo similar to the one on the coffee mugs. He said he wasn’t sure where it was taken, but it was apparently in a formal setting.
Thompson showered politicians, often Republicans, with donations. Last week, the judge rejected a renewed defense request to subpoena testimony from leading Ohio Republicans including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.
Later Wednesday, a Montville, N.J., telemarketing executive, Mark Gelvan, testified that Thompson set state-by-state fundraising limits for the work that Gelvan’s firm did for the charity. The aim was to avoid triggering costly audits tied to in-state fundraising totals, Gelvan said.
His firm was paid more than $41,000 for fundraising during 2003 and 2004, Gelvan said.
The prosecutor sought to track the donations by eliciting testimony from Gelvan that his firm was obligated to deposit the money in accounts controlled by the charity. Prosecutors have said most of the nearly $3 million raised in Ohio vanished.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Joseph Patituce attacked Gelvan’s reliability by challenging the accuracy of fundraising reports made to state regulators.
Gelvan acknowledged numerous documents entered into evidence lacked notice that they had been received by state regulators or didn’t reflect active fundraising drives.
Thompson was indicted in 2010 and disappeared for almost two years. He was arrested last year in Portland, Ore., where agents and deputy marshals found him with fake IDs and a suitcase containing $980,000 in cash.