CINCINNATI - A Tampa woman faced a judge in Ohio Wednesday morning on charges she helped run a veterans charity the attorney general calls a sham that took millions of dollars in donations, but never delivered to the Navy veterans supposed to get the funds.
Agents extradited Blanca Contreras from North Carolina for her arraignment in Cuyahoga County. She’s in jail on a $2 million bond after pleading not guilty to three felony charges of aggravated theft, money laundering and engaging in corrupt activity. Judge Kathleen Sutula assigned a public defender to represent Contreras.
Attorney General Richard Cordray says Contreras continued the operations of the United States Navy Association after its principal, a man who calls himself Bobby Thompson, disappeared earlier this year. Cordray says Thompson and Contreras stole “more than $1.9 million from Ohio citizens, money that they should have either kept for themselves or would have presumably given to legal and legitimate veterans organizations in our state.”
Thompson remains a fugitive facing the same charges. The Attorney General’s office says he stole that name from a resident of Washington state but also used the name of an Indiana man, Ronnie D. Brittain, for a decade.
Thompson ran a nationwide group he claimed had more than 60,000 members in 41 states. He called it a charity and filed IRS tax returns that claimed more than $20 million a year. Donors thought they were contributing to veterans but investigators have found little proof the money helped vets.
Instead, Cordray says Thompson diverted the donations to his own political contributions across the nation. “It's very aggravating to us to have that money diverted out of Ohio and find it going to an array of corrupt activities including potentially fraudulent political contributions to political candidates.”
The organization used a UPS mail drop in downtown Cincinnati as its Ohio headquarters.
Federal agencies and nine states are investigating the charity.
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