CLEVELAND - A woman who helped run a “veterans charity” Ohio’s then-attorney general called a “sham” pleaded guilty Wednesday to four felony charges.
The United States Navy Veterans Association took millions of dollars in donations in Ohio and across the nation, but delivered only a few thousand dollars to the veterans supposed to get the funds.
Blanca Contreras had called herself an “unpaid volunteer” but prosecutors said she withdrew more than $400,000 from the “charity”, which based its Ohio headquarters out of a UPS drop box in downtown Cincinnati. Federal and state police still are looking for her former boss, a man who called himself Bobby Thompson, one of several false identities the I-Team previously reported in a year-long investigation.
State agents extradited Contreras from North Carolina to Ohio last fall for her arraignment in Cleveland. She had sat in jail in Cuyahoga County on a $2 million bond after originally pleading not guilty to three felony charges of aggravated theft, money laundering and engaging in corrupt activity. She’s set for sentencing August 3.
The attorney general’s office said Contreras continued operating the Navy Vets Association after “Thompson” disappeared. Until then, he had claimed the group possessed more than 60,000 members in 41 states. The I-Team couldn’t find proof any of them existed, much less the board of directors he listed on a fancy website that since has gone dark.
"Thompson” filed IRS tax returns that claimed donations of more than $20 million a year. At the same time, he ran a political action committee that contributed heavily to mostly Republican leaders, including former president George W. Bush, Ohio Senator George Voinovich, and then-Congressman, now Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose very office arranged the plea deal with Contreras.
Agents for the FBI, IRS and other state attorneys general also are investigating what happened to the missing millions.
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