Inside the Improbable $100M Grift of Bobby Thompson

America's strangest conman who also might be a CIA operative
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 21, 2017 5:00 PM CDT
Updated Mar 25, 2017 5:28 PM CDT
Bobby Thompson, who authorities have identified as Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody, looks at the jury during closing statements by the prosecution Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in Cleveland.   (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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(Newser) – With his fake-looking pompadour and nonprescription glasses, Bobby Charles Thompson came across like a "kook"—but, as one political consultant puts it, that was the "brilliance of his con." The Washingtonian dives headlong into the bizarre tale of Thompson, who was behind what is believed to be one of the biggest US charity frauds ever. Thompson was born John Donald Cody, a man incapable of crying due a lack of tear glands. Cody worked in military intelligence and then as a lawyer until 1984, when he disappeared amid fraud charges. He reappeared years later as Thompson, a member of the nonprofit United States Navy Veterans Association and a prolific political donor and hobnobber.

By 2009, the Navy Veterans Association was doing well for itself: It had 41 state chapters and had raised around $100 million from donors. Thompson wasn't doing too shabby either: He had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to John McCain, Mitt Romney, and other Republicans and got his photo taken with George W. Bush. Then it all fell apart. Of the 85 top association staff listed on official forms, only Thompson could be found to exist. The nonprofit's state chapters were mostly PO boxes, and it was unclear where donation money was going. An IRS audit of the Connecticut chapter turned up notes handwritten by Thompson misspelling city names ("New Havin") and receipts for hair dye and rat traps. Thompson went on the lam again before being convicted in 2013—despite his contention that he's a CIA operative. Read the full story here to find out why that's not as unbelievable as it sounds. (Read more con man stories.)

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