CINCINNATI - She served as the head of the consumer division of Ohio’s Attorney General’s office. Her job included investigating scams and prosecuting scam artists.
Now Helen MacMurray says she was bamboozled herself by a man who led a “brilliant” national scheme to steal millions of dollars from Americans who thought they were contributing to a charity benefitting Navy veterans.
For almost half a year, the I-Team has reported on the United States Navy Veterans Association, a Tampa-based organization that claimed to have chapters in 41 states, including Ohio. The group called itself a charity and used two telemarketing firms to raise millions of dollars across the country. After investigation, the Ohio chapter turned out to merely consist of a UPS box in downtown Cincinnati.
The group’s founder called himself Bobby Thompson, which prosecutors say is a stolen identity. No one knows his real name, or his current whereabouts, since he met with MacMurray in June in New York City.
“Thompson” donated nearly $300,000, mostly to conservative candidates across the nation. In Ohio he made political contributions to Senator George Voinovich, former Senator Mike DeWine and U.S. Representatives Jeanne Schmidt and Steve Chabot. His largesse won him access to top Republicans, including photo opportunities with George W. Bush.
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray says Thompson diverted donations Americans made to the United States Navy Veterans Association to fund political contributions instead. That leaves millions of dollars unaccounted.
So how did the former Head of Consumer Investigations for the state of Ohio come to represent a charity she now admits was based on lies?
MacMurray says Thompson contacted her private practice, which focused on serving charities. She was hired as general counsel for the United States Navy Veterans Association, not Thompson himself.
The I-Team started requesting interviews with MacMurray in June, about the time she last met with Thompson. She refused all of our requests.
Now she’s breaking her silence.
“His lies were pervasive and long-standing, and he tricked the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. He tricked the federal regulators,” she said. “He tricked me too.”
MacMurray represented the United States Navy Veterans Association in an Internal Revenue Service audit in 2009, winning approval. She won’t discuss the details or answer how she accomplished such a feat despite admitting “Bobby Thompson was lying to everybody and taking this money.”
MacMurray says she took the job because she comes from a Navy family. Her father served in the Navy. Her grandfather was a captain, and other family members also chose this service branch.
“I was just excited to be able to represent this association and maybe help Navy vets.”
When asked if she ever met other association officers Thompson claimed existed (and no no one has been able to find), she says it wasn't part of the the protocol. She typically doesn't meet the officers of charities she represents from afar. She defends her due diligence, investigating the group before taking the job.
“We asked a lot of questions and reviewed a lot of documents.”
She says her suspicions grew at that June meeting, when Thompson wouldn’t answer her questions and acted aggressively toward her. She won’t detail how, citing attorney-client privilege.
“At that point in time, I realized that I had evidence of a crime in front of me and I needed to report it.”
She sought legal advice and then got permission from a judge to discuss details with the authorities. MacMurray became a key witness in federal and state investigations, spending dozens of hours with the FBI, IRS and state attorneys general in Florida and Ohio. She has handed over thousands of documents in the process.
“It’s ongoing. In fact we’re right now trying to find things in this office that may have his fingerprints on them.”
We asked MacMurray how she – once Ohio’s top prosecutor for consumer crimes – could fall for one. She says “Thompson” defied her experience with scammers she had prosecuted for the state. Most flaunted their wealth, driving fancy cars, dressing in flashy clothing and living in mansions. Thompson lived in a rundown duplex in a decrepit area of Tampa and dressed like a homeless man, according to MacMurray.
“Nobody’s perfect, and I look back now and I identify the lessons that I learned.”
MacMurray discounts the political implications involved in this drama. She’s a connected Republican, and Thompson contributed heavily to her party. She says that had nothing to do with her working for the association.
Nor does she believe there’s a conflict of interest now that former Senator Mike DeWine is taking over the state’s investigation and case, as the incoming Ohio Attorney General. MacMurray states he donated the money he had received from the U.S. Navy Vets Association and will vigorously continue the state’s case.
“I don’t think Mike DeWine wants to hide behind that so that he can’t prosecute