CINCINNATI - A Hamilton County judge Monday ordered a charity that claimed to be collecting donations for veterans to stop doing any more business in Ohio. The judge also allowed the group’s attorneys to quit.
The United States Navy Veterans Association claimed to earn more than $20 million a year on its tax returns. The I-Team could find only a few instances of actual aid to veterans, worth only a few tens of thousands of dollars.
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray says he suspects the group’s founder, a man who calls himself Commander Bobby Thompson, diverted donations to fund the campaigns of his favorite politicians.
Judge Ethna Cooper briefly questioned attorney Shaun Petersen, whose firm represented the U.S. Navy Vets Association, before granting his motion to withdraw from the case. Petersen said his team of attorneys couldn’t reach anyone from the charity either.
The group claimed on its website that 66,000 people had joined its chapters in 41 states. The I-Team couldn’t locate anyone other than Thompson, and no one showed up in court to speak on behalf of the charity.
Petersen served as an assistant to his current law partner Helen MacMurray when she ran the consumer division of the attorney general’s office, the very division now investigating the charity.
He wouldn’t answer questions including how much the U.S. Navy Veterans Association paid his firm for representation or where the millions in claimed donations went. He said, “We have ethical obligations as attorneys. We have to respect the attorney-client privilege even after the case is terminated."
Mondday’s court action doesn’t stop the operation from collecting funds in other states. Several are considering or have taken similar legal action.
None have been able to find Thompson.
Copyright (c) 2010 The E. W. Scripps Company
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