"Bobby Thompson," the con man who fooled the 2010 Virginia General Assembly into passing a law that would allow him to resume chearing Virginians.
The Virginia General Assembly opens Wednesday, and already our lawmakers are deep into planning big and small changes to Virginia law.
As of early Monday afternoon, delegates and senators had dropped 2,499 new bills into the General Assembly’s hopper, and more are on the way.
But in the prefiling frenzy there’s one particular issue they have so far overlooked:
Legislation to repeal SB 563, which in 2010 all 100 delegates and 40 senators voted for, and which Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law on April 12. It took effect July 1.
That law was a scam. A pony-tailed grifter from Florida who used the name “Bobby Thompson” fooled our legislature into enacting it.
That was so he could resume cheating Virginians out of their money.
The law says tax-exempt veterans service organizations no longer have to register with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to raise funds in Virginia.
Thompson is the founder of the phony U.S. Navy Veterans Association, and he’s now the subject of a nationwide manhunt on Ohio charges of fraud and identity theft, and a federal investigation by the IRS.
Since its founding in 2002, the U.S. Navy Vets national and state chapters have reported raising about $100 million. That includes $4.6 million in Virginia during 2008 and 2009.
It’s unclear what happened to that money. Only a tiny portion was ever spent on aid to veterans.
But in 2009, “Bobby Thompson” had a little problem on his hands in Virginia, which was fertile fundraising ground because of the Norfolk naval base.
Acting on the advice of then Attorney General Bill Mims, state regulators ordered the U.S. Navy Vets to halt fundraising here because it hadn’t filed the proper paperwork. The group agreed to stop.
Around mid 2009, “Thompson” started making campaign contributions to key state lawmakers.
He gave $55,500 to the campaign of then Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, who was later elected Attorney General, and $5,000 to future Gov. Bob McDonnell’s election campaign.
He contributed $2,000 each to the campaigns of House Speaker William Howell, Del. Chris Jones, chair of the House General Laws Committee, and Del. Tom Gear, chair of a General Laws subcommittee. They’re all Republicans.
Sen. Patsy Ticer
Thompson also gave $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Patsy Ticer, D-Alexandria.
Last January she introduced SB 563 at the request of a lobbyist for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. It passed the Senate without opposition.
Then the bill went over to the House, where it was referred to the committee Jones chaired. And then to the subcommittee that Gear chaired.
It passed both of those unanimously, and later, the House voted 100-0 for it.
Soon afterward, Ticer learned the U.S. Navy Vets might be a scam and she tried to get the governor to veto her own bill.
But the governor’s staff said she was too late to stop the bill signing.
In May, after this newspaper broke the story of Thompson’s efforts and his contributions, the lawmakers seemed aghast. McDonnell,
Howell, Jones and Ticer quickly gave away their “Bobby Thompson” donations to legitimate veterans charities.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli supports repeal of SB 563. Among all politicians in the country, he was the number one recipient of campaign donations from con man Bobby Thompson.
For awhile, Cuccinelli defended “Thompson,” his second largest individual campaign contributor. But the attorney general finally gave up the money, too. Gear, who has since resigned his seat for health reasons, didn’t.
“Thompson’s real name is unknown. Last fall, he was featured on the television show “American’s Most Wanted.”
Nobody yet has offered a cogent explanation about how a con man from Florida with a fake name managed to target his Virginia political donations so efficiently and get the bill passed.
It’s enough to make you wonder whether somebody intimately familiar with Virginia’s legislative process advised Thompson.
Monday, I contacted the officials above to ask whether they would try to undo this embarrassing law.
Ticer, Jones and Howell did not return my phone calls.
Stacey Johnson, McDonnell’s spokewoman, said repeal of the bill is “an option that would be examined.”
Brian Gottstein, Cuccinelli’s spokesman, wrote: “Sen. Ticer is offering a bill to repeal her original SB 563. The attorney general fully supports the repeal.”
Let’s hope that’s true, and that it sails as smoothly though the legislature as the con man’s bill did.