On the last day of April, after a nationwide search that lasted almost two years, law enforcement officials from Ohio finally nabbed “Bobby Thompson,” one of America’s most-wanted fugitives, a man suspected of stealing millions from the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, a charity whose stated mission was to help veterans and members of the U.S. armed forces. But even now that he’s behind bars, awaiting trial on a host of charges, no one knows who Bobby Thompson really is.
From the early 2000s until 2010, Thompson — an alias — and at least one other associate took in almost $100 million in donations from people in forty-one states for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, which was a sham organization. Along the way, Thompson attended fundraisers and meet-and-greets where he stood shoulder to shoulder and took photographs with the most powerful Republican politicians in the country, including President George W. Bush, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Thompson also gave generously to the campaigns of several Republican political candidates, like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who later gave the donations away to real charities. (There’s no indication they knew they were getting money from a conman.)
“It’s my right under the U.S. Constitution not to make any statements,” Thompson said as he was being handcuffed and, apart from what he has said in court, those are the only words he has spoken to investigators since. When given documents to sign, he marked them with an “X.” He has twice made, and twice withdrawn, requests to represent himself in court.
“With all due respect to the court, the question you asked is an identity question,” Thompson said last Thursday, after a Cuyahoga County Court judge in Ohio asked him if he had the educational background to represent himself, according to ABC News. “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.”
Meanwhile, investigators are still trying to determine Thompson’s real identity. His fingerprints have not turned up any matches, and investigators are asking the public for assistance.
“Someone out there knows the true identity of ‘Bobby Thompson’ and we are asking for your help to identify this individual who was one of Americas most wanted fugitives but whose true identity still remains a mystery,” the U.S. Marshal’s said in a statement earlier this month. “Anyone with information regarding the true identity of this fugitive is encouraged to contact the U.S. Marshals Service at: 1-866-4-WANTED.”
Even if they can’t pin down who he really is, prosecutors say they will be able to try him.
Last week, forensic scientists with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation began testing the evidence seized in Portland.
Thompson pleaded not guilty to the 22 charges against him last Tuesday. He remains in jail without bond.
Did you ever meet “Bobby Thompson”? We want to hear from you. Send an email to: ericl[at]talkingpointsmemo.com
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com