CINCINNATI - She served as the head of the consumer division of Ohio’sAttorney General’s office. Her job included investigatingscams and prosecuting scam artists.
Now Helen MacMurray says she was bamboozled herself by a man wholed a “brilliant” national scheme to steal millions ofdollars from Americans who thought they were contributing to acharity benefitting Navy veterans.
For almost half a year, the I-Team has reported on the UnitedStates Navy Veterans Association, a Tampa-based organization thatclaimed to have chapters in 41 states, including Ohio. The groupcalled itself a charity and used two telemarketing firms to raisemillions of dollars across the country. After investigation, theOhio chapter turned out to merely consist of a UPS box in downtownCincinnati.
The group’s founder called himself Bobby Thompson, whichprosecutors say is a stolen identity. No one knows his real name,or his current whereabouts, since he met with MacMurray in June inNew York City.
“Thompson” donated nearly $300,000, mostly toconservative candidates across the nation. In Ohio he madepolitical contributions to Senator George Voinovich, former SenatorMike DeWine and U.S. Representatives Jeanne Schmidt and SteveChabot. His largesse won him access to top Republicans, includingphoto opportunities with George W. Bush.
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray says Thompson diverteddonations Americans made to the United States Navy VeteransAssociation to fund political contributions instead. That leavesmillions of dollars unaccounted.
So how did the former Head of Consumer Investigations for thestate of Ohio come to represent a charity she now admits was basedon lies?
MacMurray says Thompson contacted her private practice, whichfocused on serving charities. She was hired as general counsel forthe United States Navy Veterans Association, not Thompsonhimself.
The I-Team started requesting interviews with MacMurray in June,about the time she last met with Thompson. She refused all of ourrequests.
Now she’s breaking her silence.
“His lies were pervasive and long-standing, and he trickedthe Ohio Attorney General’s Office. He tricked the federalregulators,” she said. “He tricked me too.”
MacMurray represented the United States Navy VeteransAssociation in an Internal Revenue Service audit in 2009, winningapproval. She won’t discuss the details or answer how sheaccomplished such a feat despite admitting “Bobby Thompsonwas lying to everybody and taking this money.”
MacMurray says she took the job because she comes from a Navyfamily. Her father served in the Navy. Her grandfather was acaptain, and other family members also chose this servicebranch.
“I was just excited to be able to represent thisassociation and maybe help Navy vets.”
When asked if she ever met other association officers Thompsonclaimed existed (and no no one has been able to find), she says itwasn't part of the the protocol. She typically doesn't meet theofficers of charities she represents from afar. She defends her duediligence, investigating the group before taking the job.
“We asked a lot of questions and reviewed a lot ofdocuments.”
She says her suspicions grew at that June meeting, when Thompsonwouldn’t answer her questions and acted aggressively towardher. She won’t detail how, citing attorney-clientprivilege.
“At that point in time, I realized that I had evidence ofa crime in front of me and I needed to report it.”
She sought legal advice and then got permission from a judge todiscuss details with the authorities. MacMurray became a keywitness in federal and state investigations, spending dozens ofhours with the FBI, IRS and state attorneys general in Florida andOhio. She has handed over thousands of documents in theprocess.
“It’s ongoing. In fact we’re right now tryingto find things in this office that may have his fingerprints onthem.”
We asked MacMurray how she – once Ohio’s topprosecutor for consumer crimes – could fall for one. She says“Thompson” defied her experience with scammers she hadprosecuted for the state. Most flaunted their wealth, driving fancycars, dressing in flashy clothing and living in mansions. Thompsonlived in a rundown duplex in a decrepit area of Tampa and dressedlike a homeless man, according to MacMurray.
“Nobody’s perfect, and I look back now and Iidentify the lessons that I learned.”
MacMurray discounts the political implications involved in thisdrama. She’s a connected Republican, and Thompson contributedheavily to her party. She says that had nothing to do with herworking for the association.
Nor does she believe there’s a conflict of interest nowthat former Senator Mike DeWine is taking over the state’sinvestigation 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 thestate’s case.
“I don’t think Mike DeWine wants to hide behind thatso that he can’t prosecute this fully.”
For now the only person facing charges is Blanca Contreras, asupposed unpaid volunteer, who had withdrawn more than $400,000from the “charity’s” bank accounts. Wednesday, aCuyahoga County judge set Jan. 19 for her trial facing charges oftheft, aggravated theft, money laundering and engaging in a patternof corrupt activity.
The state indicted Thompson on the same charges, but for now, noone has seen him since June. MacMurray says, “He discussedhaving many international friends and I cannot imagine thathe’s still in this country.”
MacMurray says the whole episode taught her many lessons andthat she’ll do everything she can to bring Thompson tojustice.