Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Eighth District: Most of Prison Sentence for Navy Charity Scammer Affirmed, But Not Veterans Day in Solitary Confinement

The mastermind of a scam to bilk an estimated $100 million from donors to a fake national veteran’s charity does not have to spend every Veterans Day in solitary confinement, and one year of his sentence should be reduced, an Ohio appeals court ruled.

Still addressing him as Bobby Thompson, the Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday most of the 28-year sentence against the former founder of the U.S. Naval Veteran’s Association (USNVA), but reduced the sentence by 12 months, Ohio courts did not have jurisdiction over some of the identify-fraud charges against him.

Thompson, whose real name is John Donald Cody, was convicted in November 2013. Along with prison time, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Gall fined Thompson $6.3 million and ordered him to spend every Veterans Day in solitary confinement.

Writing for the Eighth District, Judge Kathleen Ann Keough noted that Ohio investigators began looking into USNVA after the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2010, that the charity was fictitious. Judge Keough wrote that while the court records now have been changed to reflect his real name as Cody, the decision still describes him as Thompson. During the trial, Bobby Thompson of Washington State testified that Cody stole his identity years ago.

Investigators estimated that Thompson duped Ohioans out of about $2 million in donations and the Times reported USNVA received more than $100 million from donors in 41 states and other countries between 2002 and 2010. The Times reported that Thompson is a former Army military intelligence officer and Harvard-trained lawyer who became a fugitive in 1984, after being accused of stealing from a client's estate. As Cody, he was on the FBI's most-wanted list since 1987.

While Thompson was first indicted in Cuyahoga County in 2010, he was a fugitive, and was subsequently arrested in Oregon in 2012. He was found with the identification of several other men and $940,000 hidden in a storage locker. The amended charges included engaging in a corrupt activity, complicity to commit theft, tampering with records, complicity to tamper with records, second-degree identify fraud, possession of criminal tools, seven counts of complicity to commit money laundering, and 11 counts of fifth-degree identity fraud.

Thompson appealed his sentence to the Eighth District, arguing the trial court did not have jurisdiction over the 11 counts of identity fraud because they were committed in another state. He also argued that no elements of the crimes he was convicted for involved the identities in his possession.

The state countered that the theft of the IDs was committed in a “continuing course of criminal conduct pursuant to Ohio’s venue statute under R.C. 2901.12(H).”

Judge Keough wrote that state jurisdiction of criminal offenses is conferred in R.C. 2901.11, but that the provision regarding venue only is appropriate to reference if the state properly proves it has jurisdiction over the offender. She described the state’s reliance on the venue provision as “misplaced,” because venue describes where a trial is to take place once the state has establishes it has jurisdiction.

When apprehended in Oregon, Thompson had three wallets with the IDs of four men, as well as documents in a suitcase with the IDs of seven others. But Judge Keough wrote that none of those IDs were connected to his USNVA criminal acts. Because the IDs were not connected to activities in Ohio or flowing from the crimes against Ohioans, the state did not have jurisdiction. Without jurisdiction, the question of venue to try Thompson does not apply, and the appellate court dismissed those charges against him.

Regarding the solitary-confinement sentence requirement, Judge Keogh noted the state acknowledges the trial court had no authority to impose the punishment and she cited the appellate court’s 2007 State v. Williams case that indicates there is no statutory provision in Ohio’s sentencing law allowing for that type of punishment.

Judges Mary J. Boyle and Tim McCormack concurred in the decision.

State v. Thompson, 2015-Ohio-2261
Criminal Appeal From: Cuyahoga County Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed in part and Reversed in part
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: June 11, 2015

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