By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A man who donated to several Republican political campaigns was operating a bogus charity for Navy veterans that he used to defraud donors of nearly $100 million, prosecutors told an Ohio court on Monday.
The Ohio Attorney General's office set out its case against Bobby Thompson, 67, in opening arguments at his trial for identity fraud, complicity to money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
The U.S. Navy Veterans Association founded by Thompson was a "house of cards" that came crashing down in 2010 when a Florida investigative reporter began asking about political contributions from the group, prosecutor Brad Tammaro told the court.
Thompson raised about $3 million in Ohio donations under the guise of "assistance to veterans" but siphoned off some of the money using withdrawals from bank ATMs and checks, he said.
"(He) took millions, $10, $20 and $50 at a time and he took it from 1,000s of Ohioans," Tammaro said.
The Florida investigative reporter, Jeffery Testerman, testified that he spent nine months looking into the bogus charity and could only find rented post office boxes where the offices were supposedly located. Testerman said he was never able to contact any of the organization's officers except Thompson.
Ohio prosecutors say that little, if any, of the tens of millions of dollars Thompson raised through this association actually went to veterans or active members of the military.
The case against Thompson grew more complicated following his arrest in Portland, Oregon, in 2012. He was eventually identified as John Donald Cody, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former member of the U.S. Army's military intelligence unit who was a cold-case fugitive wanted by the FBI since 1987.
Under the name Cody, he had appeared on the FBI's most wanted list as part of an "ongoing espionage investigation."
Thompson was found with numerous fake IDs and a large amount of cash when he was arrested. He initially refused to reveal his real name, signing court documents in the name of "Mr. X," according to authorities.
Cody was known for his pompadour, a missing finger tip and a penchant for tanning himself to an orange hue - traits that Thompson also shared, Pete Elliot, a U.S. Marshall in Cleveland said last week.
Defense attorney Joe Patituce responded in his opening statement that the charges were politically motivated.
He held a poster-sized photo of Thompson standing next to former President George W. Bush at a White House dinner and questioned why a case involving a "Republican charity" headquartered in Florida was being tried in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga county in Ohio.
"Why is the case being tried here when the mailbox address of the organization was in Cincinnati?" Patituce asked.
The case was originally brought by a Democratic attorney general of Ohio but is now being prosecuted by the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican.
Patituce said Thompson was being punished for making donations to senior Republican politicians. Thompson will testify at the trial to defend himself, Patituce said.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Gall ruled last week against Thompson's attempt to subpoena several Republican politicians from Ohio whom he said had received donations, including John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Thompson's alleged co-conspirator is serving a five-year prison sentence in Ohio for her role in the scam after pleading guilty in June 2011.
(Reporting By Kim Palmer; Editing by Greg McCune and Christopher Wilson)