After a week of jury selection and motions, the trial of John Donald Cody aka “Bobby Thompson” got underway in earnest Monday. Here are some key takeaways from the first day of the U.S. Navy Vets’ founder’s trial.
One of the first witnesses was Jeff Testerman, a retired investigative reporter from the Tampa Bay Times. He testified that the U.S. Navy Vets had mail-drop chapters in 40 states and that over eight months of reporting, he and a researcher couldn’t verify the existence of ANY of those chapters’ officers. All the names appeared to be fictitious. The only person he ever met who was real was Thompson. Thompson waved to Testerman from the defense table.
Another prosecution witness was Helen MacMurray, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association attorney. Earlier, she had been chief of charity compliance for the Ohio Attorney General. She testified that Thompson told her the organization had chapters in every state that didn’t require a financial audit of charities. She also said she’d asked to meet with some of the organizations officers but that Thompson had rebuffed her. She earned $275,000 representing the Navy Vets between October 2007 and July 2010.
During his opening statement, Ohio Assistant Attorney General Brad Tammaro told jurors that Thompson was a failed Army officer who left the service after he was twice turned down for a promotion to major. He left the service with a honorable discharged, opened a legal practice in Arizona, disappeared in the 1980s with $100,000 in client funds, and later resurfaced via the U.S. Navy Vets, which had scammed about $3 million from Ohioans via telemarketing firms. “What the evidence will show you is that he is simply a thief, a thief who would not tell the truth,” Tammaro said.
Defense Attorney Joseph Patituce painted a completely different picture, and told the court that there was “an utter lack of proof” for any of the state’s charges. He told the jury that the U.S. Navy Vets was a legitimate charity, that 90 percent of the money raised by the U.S. Navy Vets went to telemarketers; $315,000 went to lawyers; $300,000 went to politicians’ campaigns (almost all of them were Republicans); and that $60,000 went to support for veterans. He also held up a photo of Thompson with former President George W. Bush and asked rhetorically that if Thompson was the fugitive the prosecution has made his client out to be, “How did he get that close to the President of the United States?” six times. Patituce also said Thompson would testify and “My client did everything he said he was going to do.”
Incidentally, although it hasn’t come up at trial yet, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was the largest single recipient of campaign contributions from Thompson, among politicians all over the country. Cuccinelli’s 2009 attorney general’s campaign got $55,500 from the alleged identity thief and con man.
Under pressure in 2010, Cuccinelli donated the money to legitimate veterans charities. But Cody nee Thompson has been charged with no crimes in Virginia.