CINCINNATI - A man who ran what Ohio's then attorney general called a massive fake charity sits in jail on the West Coast Tuesday morning after FBI agents arrested him following an almost two-year national manhunt.
The I-Team first reported the story of the man who called himself "Commander Bobby Thompson" in July 2010. The name is one of several aliases he used.
The head of the U.S.. Marshal's task force in charge of catching "Thompson" said agents had built on a series of leads since November and put the pieces together in the past few days. Agents from the task force based in Cleveland made the arrest about 10:30 p.m. pacific time Monday night.
"He had three IDs on him with different names, from different countries," said Pete Elliott, the task force chief. "He will have a hearing within the next 10 to 14 days. We will bring him back to Northern Ohio [for prosecution]."
The I-Team's investigation revealed that "Thompson" claimed amassing tens of millions of dollars through donations to a national charity called the United States Navy Veterans Association. The charity ran its Ohio headquarters out of a UPS drop box in downtown Cincinnati. Ohio residents sent at least $1.9 million there, a drop in the bucket compared to the millions donors sent from 41 states, agents say. "Thompson" faces 22 counts of theft, money laundering and other felony charges, filed in Cleveland where he'll be extradited within the next 10 days, said Elliott.
The I-Team investigation showed that "Thompson" then contributed tens of thousands of dollars to candidates he supported, spending so much he had photos taken with President George W. Bush. Our records found contributions to U.S. Representatives Steve Chabot and Jean Schmidt as well as then-Senator Mike DeWine, currently Ohio's attorney general. His office would be responsible for prosecuting "Thompson".
The FBI and U.S.. Marshals shared details of the arrest in a news conference at 11:30 p.m. in Cleveland.
They chased him from the East Coast to the west, then back and again. They almost caught up with him last month in Boston. But the end for the man known as "Bobby Thompson" came after he left a bar in Portland, Oregon. Federal agents tracked him as he walked to an apartment there and placed under arrest a man they say bilked $100 million from kind-hearted Americans.
U.S. marshals had finally caught up with the mastermind of a massive fake charity the I-Team investigated almost two years ago, a man who became one of America's Most Wanted. Thompson now sits in jail in Portland awaiting extradition to Ohio.
Thompson was an identity he stole and used to create a national charity called the United States Navy Veterans Association. Donors thought they were contributing to veterans but the I-Team investigation found little evidence any of the money went where telemarketers promised. We did find records of tens of thousands of dollars "Thompson" contributed to candidates including George W. Bush and U.S. Representatives Steve Chabot and Jean Schmidt. In a hugely ironic turn of events, he also contributed to then-Senator Mike DeWine, currently Ohio's attorney general, whose office now is responsible to prosecute "Thompson".
Perhaps the first order of business: finding the man's true identity.
"We still right now do not know this individual's real name. We're following tips on that," said Elliott.
When agents arrested "Thompson" he had three different IDs on him, along with a bundle of cash in a backpack. Agents say he appeared to be in poor physical condition and was walking with a cane.
"We have been on this guy for a long time," said Attorney General DeWine. "This was a despicable scheme to solicit money from Ohioans and people in 41 states under the guise of helping Navy veterans."
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38-time Emmy winner Brendan Keefe was named Best Reporter by the Ohio Associated Press in 2011, and Best Photographer in 2012 and 2013. He serves as Anchor and Chief Investigator for 9 On Your Side.
Jason Law joined 9 On Your Side in January 2013 as a investigative reporter with the I-Team.