Authorities: John Donald Cody mastermind behind $100M charity scam

(CBS News) Five months after a suspect was arrested, authorities say they finally know his real name. Officials say he's a Harvard law school graduate who's been wanted by the FBI for a very long time.

John Donald Cody has been on the run since 1984, when he suddenly fell off the grid around the time he was accused of estate fraud. Now, "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty reports that authorities believe that Cody and a man named Bobby Thompson are one and the same person and allege he is responsible for the largest charity scam in U.S. history.

The man who called himself Bobby Thompson had many faces.Last April, Thompson, who was posing as a retired Canadian mountie, was arrested at a rooming house in Portland, Ore. Thompson was being pursued by authorities in a nine-state, cross-country manhunt as the alleged mastermind behind an organization called the United States Navy Veterans Association, a fake charity that took in a $100 million in donations over an eight-year period.

The money never got to the people it was supposed to. But through a reputation acquired through his seemingly successful charity, Thompson gained access to some of the nation's most powerful Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, former presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, and even President George W. Bush.

But when he was transferred to Ohio to face charges, the man authorities believed to be Thompson signed into prison as 'Mr. X,' leading officials to believe he was hiding something more.

U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot said he began searching Google for similarities, looking for major fraud fugitives. Elliott said that by simply searching the internet, he found an FBI wanted poster for a similar-looking man who also wore a pompadour. That man was John Donald Cody, a Harvard-educated attorney who had mysteriously disappeared from his Arizona law practice in 1984, and was later indicted on four counts of estate fraud.

The original wanted poster described a man without tear ducts so Elliott called Thompson's former landlady, who said her one-time tenant had left behind something unusual: two big bottles of eye drops. Elliot said, "It said that he had no tear ducts that he had to use eye drops all the time, so in my world, in our world, one and one equals two."

Also left behind in that apartment was one DVD: "Catch Me if You Can," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a fugitive on the run.

But it wasn't until the FBI searched the military's own fingerprint files, going back to 1969 - the year Cody last served - that a positive match was finally made.

Elliott said, "We love doing this. We love catching the people that don't think they can be caught and even more than that we love identifying the people that think they never can be identified."

In another twist of events to this multi-layered tale, the FBI has reportedly linked Cody to an espionage investigation, so even more charges might be laid as we go forward with this case.

Watch Moriarty's full report in the video above.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former FBI deputy director, said on "CBS This Morning"

"There's something off here which is, you know, listening to the story and talking to the marshal yesterday, what he said was, we ran the prints when we arrested him and nothing came back but then going through the wanted posters we found this guy looked similar. If you arrest the guy and run the prints, his prints should come back, so why didn't they? This will give birth to ever conspiracy theory in the world. 'He was a former spy, he knew people in high places, could he have actually gotten his prints removed?' We don't know why the prints weren't in the...system. Down in Clarksburg, West Virginia, there's a huge FBI facility, 70 million prints. You run them, they can come back in 12 minutes. They have wanted posters out on this guy for both a federal IRS indictment for fraud and suspected espionage. So you would have thought they would have add his prints to the file."

Told he was never arrested, just indicted on those charges, Miller said, "The military had his prints on file, the way they have prints on everybody in the military, particularly those in military intelligence. And what should have happened was, an agent should have gone down to the military, picked up those prints when they put out the wanted poster, added them to the...system. Because what this means he could have been stopped for DUI, he could have been arrested along the way, they could have run the prints and never known it was him.

(Watch Miller and Moriarty discuss the case on "CBS This Morning" in the video below.)

Miller added, "I bet what happened here is you got an IRS case in Phoenix, an espionage case in Washington, an FBI fugitive case in Phoenix. I bet every agent in every office probably thought the other guy had pulled the prints and put them in the system. It's probably pretty mundane, but people will speculate and make it more interesting."

Moriarty noted that the alleged suspect started out on the straight and narrow. "When he first came out of Harvard, he went to work for a very prestigious law firm in New York City. When he went to Arizona, he tried to set up a system where you have lawyers appointed for indigents. Then something happened in May of 1984 where he takes off with $100,000 of a client's, allegedly, and then starts off on this life of crime."

Asked about the espionage angle Miller explained, "The espionage case has to do with, as all this was spinning up with the fraud, he apparently tried to make contact with or made contact with a hostile foreign power or an intelligence officer, and because of his former secret clearances, the fact he was a reservist in intelligence that's what he was saying...they wanted to know, 'Why are you talking to these people?' And that is something that now that they have him, they will focus on."

He was hiding in plain sight, Moriarty said. "He was having pictures taken with Senator John McCain, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. I mean, gutsy, gutsy."