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Defense rests in Ohio $100M charity fraud trial

November 12, 2013

CLEVELAND (AP) — The mysterious defendant charged in a $100 million, cross-country veterans charity fraud wanted to tell jurors his side of the story at his trial, but he skipped testifying Tuesday as his defense rested without calling witnesses.

His attorney said the defendant, who identifies himself as Bobby Thompson, 67, changed his mind about testifying, worried about his mental state if he faced an aggressive cross-examination.

The defendant, identified by authorities as Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody, bloodied himself last week while pounding his head against the wall in a holding cell, with the noise audible in the adjacent courtroom, defense attorney Joseph Patituce said during a break in the trial. The judge said the defendant was checked by the jail medical staff.

The judge began instructing the jurors on the law Tuesday afternoon but recessed until Wednesday. The jury will get the case after both sides have a chance to make final statements.

The five-week trial drew to a close Tuesday with the defendant walking slowly into the courtroom after a 90-minute delay, his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, his hair disheveled and his long, baggy pants bunched around his ankles.

The judge suggested a break to provide time for him to clean up. He did so, returning with a fresh shirt and hair combed.

“I would like to put myself in physical appearance state I think is reasonable,” the defendant said.

The former fugitive is charged with looting the United States Navy Veterans Association charity that he ran in Tampa, Fla. The charges include racketeering, money laundering, theft and identity theft.

Authorities believe he defrauded donors of up to $100 million in 41 states since 2001, including $2 million in Ohio, on the guise of helping Navy veterans. A fraction of the money has been found.

Authorities said they traced the name Bobby Thompson to a man who wasn’t connected to the charity case. Authorities say he had his identity stolen, including his Social Security number and date of birth.

The defendant, eventually identified through military fingerprint records, disappeared for almost two years after his 2010 indictment. He was arrested last year in Portland, Ore., where agents and deputy marshals found fake IDs and a suitcase containing $980,000 in cash.

The defendant showered politicians, often Republicans, with political donations. The judge rejected a defense request to subpoena testimony from leading Ohio Republicans including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.

Politicians who received donations from him, according to campaign finance filings, include former President George W. Bush and former presidential contenders Mitt Romney, John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office handled the trial prosecution, said he believes that photos the defendant had taken with high-profile Republicans such as Bush, Boehner and GOP strategist Karl Rove were used to soften up potential donors.

Besides Boehner, political donations went to almost every member of the state’s GOP congressional delegation and two of DeWine’s predecessors as attorney general.

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