More than three years ago, reporter Mike Sluss and I broke the story about how a con man made $67,500 in campaign contributions to Virginia lawmakers. His putative name was Bobby Thompson, and no kidding, with those 2009 contributions Thompson bought himself a 2010 law enacted by the Virginia General Assembly. It allowed him to continue scamming Virginians.
Today, “Bobby Thompson” goes on trial on fraud charges in Cleveland, Ohio. His real name is John Donald Cody. He’s a UVa and Harvard Law graduate with a background in military intelligence, and he faces up to 30 years in prison. Last week it was announced that the many and varied campaign contributions Cody made as “Bobby Thompson” would play no role in the upcoming trial. Let’s look back on events regarding those.
In 2009, Thompson was a ‘director’ of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. It was a fictitious group, with fictitious chapters in almost every state. Each of those had a fictitious board of directors comprised of fictitious people, an address that was a mail drop and a telephone number that a voicemail drop.
Using hired call centers from out of state, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association plucked as much as $2.6 million from Virginians in one year alone, and as much as $100 million nationwide over the scam’s eight or so years of existence.
Roughly 80 percent of that money went to the boiler-room call centers; where the rest went is anyone’s guess. A lot of it likely ended up with Thompson, who was arrested in 2012 in Portland, Ore. and found with a suitcase containing almost $1 million in cash.
Thompson needed the Virginia law because in 2009, some pesky regulators with the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services put a halt to U.S. Navy Vets fundraising in the Old Dominion. That was because the group had not filed the required paperwork with the agency. Backing up VDACS was then-Virginia Attorney General Bill Mims. For the U.S. Navy Vets, Virginia was important fundraising turf — it’s home to both the Pentagon and the biggest naval base in the world and a lot of ordinary folks who are sympathetic to Navy vets.
After he made the contributions, Thompson hired lobbyists to push for a state law that would exempt veterans organizations from having to file paperwork with VDACS. The law passed the Virginia General Assembly unanimously and was signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell in April 2010.
Here are the Virginia lawmakers and the campaign contributions they received from Bobby Thompson:
• Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, who was then running for Attorney General (and is now running for governor): $55,500
• Bob McDonnell, a Republican who had resigned his Attorney General’s post and was running for governor: $5,000
• House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford: $2,000
• Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, who chaired the General Laws Committee: $2,000
• Then Del. Tom Gear, R-Hampton, who chaired a subcommittee of the General Laws Committee: $2,000
• Then Sen. Patsy Ticer, D-Alexandria: $1,000
And here’s what occurred after those well-targeted contributions were made:
Early in 2010, lobbyists Samuel Wright and Kenneth Kling persuaded Ticer to introduce the bill exempting veterans groups from the filing requirements. It passed the Senate unanimously, then went to House Speaker Bill Howell, who assigned it to Jones’ committee. Jones in turn assigned it to Gear’s subcommittee, which reported it out. Ultimately the House passed the bill unanimously as well.
McDonnell signed it into law even though Ticer, who by then had grown suspicious of the U.S. Navy Vets, frantically called his office and asked him to veto it. Apparently, by the time she did it was too late.
What’s most interesting about this sequence of events is not who touched the bill during the legislative process. Rather, it’s who DIDN’T touch it. Of every lawmaker who got money from Thompson, the only one who left no fingerprints on it at all was Ken Cuccinelli.
Oddly, Cuccinelli got 10 times more campaign cash than any other Virginia lawmaker involved in the scandal. Thompson in fact was the second biggest individual contributor to the 2009 Cuccinelli campaign. Even more oddly, Cuccinelli was the only Virginia lawmaker who actually spoke to Thompson. Cuccinelli personally solicited the largest of Thompson’s three donations, for $50,000. Steven Shannon, who Cuccinelli beat in the 2009 attorney general’s race, has his own theories about what happened. That timeline is an interesting one.
Thompson also gave money to other national Republican candidates too, including former senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Sen. John McCain, Rudy Guiliani, George W. Bush and others. Cuccinelli’s 2009 campaign got more than any of those national politicians as well.
Shortly after the 2010 story about ‘Bobby Thompson’s Law’ broke, then U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, called for a federal investigation. Most of the Virginia politicians who had accepted Thompson’s money quickly worked to distance themselves from the con man. McDonnell, Jones, Howell, and Ticer almost immediately announced they would give amounts equal to Thompson’s contributions to actual veteran’s charities. Thompson, meanwhile, had disappeared.
Cuccinelli was the only one to defend Thompson and his contributions. He said Thompson had been convicted of no crime and that his campaign wouldn’t give up Thompson’s donations until that happened. Weeks later and still under pressure, Cuccinelli relented and said his campaign would also donate Thompson’s money to legitimate veterans charities. That occurred in October 2010, five months after the story broke.
The legislature, embarrassed by the U.S. Navy Vets scandal, repealed “Bobby Thompson’s Law” in 2011.
Another strange thing about this case is that ‘Bobby Thompson’ is being tried in Ohio. He allegedly scammed millions from the Buckeye state’s residents too, but he did not trick Ohio’s state legislature and governor into enacting a law that would benefit his ongoing scam. The only state Thompson pulled that in is Virginia — and here, he has been charged with no crime.
Cuccinelli’s office has explained multiple times that the Virginia Attorney General lacks jurisdiction to prosecute Thompson. But that claim appears incredibly weak given that the attorney general has repeatedly insisted he DOES have jurisdiction to investigate potential fraud relating to research grants by a former University of Virgina climate scientist.
And it raises this question: Is it actually legal in Virginia for someone to give tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations under a stolen identity? If it is, why hasn’t that law been changed?
If indeed the AG’s office lacks jurisdiction to prosecute Thompson, you would think that sometime in the past three years the attorney general would have recommended the General Assembly expand the AG’s powers to prosecute fraud upon the Virginia General Assembly. But that hasn’t happened, either.
The attorney general, after all, is the General Assembly’s lawyer. You would think he might want to have the power to prosecute fraud against it.
According to an article in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times, Thompson has filed motions claiming he’s a deep-cover CIA agent:
Thompson, who was in military intelligence in the 1970s, said he was still working for the CIA as a “nonofficial cover” agent while he was running the charity. NOC agents are covert agents who spy while working in non-government jobs. They are trained to deny any connection with the CIA.
In a handwritten court motion, Thompson alleged that the Tampa charity was not a criminal enterprise but “a U.S. intelligence community/White House and Republican Party manipulated operation.”
If that is true, then the CIA apparently wanted Ken Cuccinelli to win the 2009 race for attorney general!