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Army veteran on trial in $100M charity scam; inside case's unusual twists

Army veteran on trial for $100 million scam 02:38

(CBS News) An Army veteran is on trial in Ohio for allegedly running a phony Navy charity. Prosecutors claim he collected more than $100 million from donors across the country.

He went by the name Bobby Thompson -- someone with connections to the rich and powerful who could be counted on to make hefty donations to the political elite. But according to federal and Ohio investigators, that money was acquired fraudulently from people in 41 states who thought they were giving money to a group Thompson started to help "disabled and needy war veterans."

Thompson's attorney says the group was not a charity, and never claimed to be.

Joseph Patituce, Thompson's attorney, said, "These individuals who donated money, donated the money knowing that the money would go to lobbying efforts. There's no deception there."

Thompson was arrested last year at a house in Portland, Ore., after a two-year federal manhunt. Once in custody, the case against Thompson took a strange twist. He began signing documents "Mr. X" with no explanation.

In an effort to figure out why, U.S. marshals turned to Google. They found an FBI wanted poster for John Donald Cody, a Harvard-educated lawyer suspected of estate fraud. Cody mysteriously disappeared in 1984. Both men had similar pompadour hairstyles, and relied heavily on eye drops.

U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot said, "It said that he had no tear ducts -- that he had to use eye drops all the time. In my world, in our world, one and one equals two."

Authorities said a fingerprint match confirmed their suspicions: Bobby Thompson was John Donald Cody, but even that is disputed by his lawyer, who told CBS News, "I can tell you in all honesty, his name is Bobby Charles Thompson, as of today."

But this strange case doesn't end there. Thompson -- a former military intelligence officer -- says he was working undercover for a government program to create non-profit groups furthering U.S. interests. Patituce said, "I don't believe he was actually on the run at all. I think he was going from one job to the next. And when I say 'job,' I don't mean that in a criminal sense."

Thompson faces numerous charges of theft, money laundering, and identity fraud in Ohio. His trial is expected to last six weeks.

Watch Michelle Miller's full report above.

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