CLEVELAND - Her own son is a soldier in the U.S. Army. But Blanca Contreras is about to serve five years for stealing more than $450,000 from Ohio residents who thought they were contributing to U.S Navy veterans.
A Cuyahoga County judge sentenced the 39-year-old mother of five for her role in the United States Navy Veterans Association scam the I-Team first reported to you more than a year ago . The fake charity set up its Ohio "headquarters" in a drop box at a UPS store in downtown Cincinnati. The head of the charity, a man who stole the identity of Bobby Thompson, disappeared with what could be millions of dollars from donors across the country.
Ohio's attorney general's office says some of that money ended up as donations to mostly conservative Republican candidates including then-U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine. Now he's Ohio's Attorney General. His office continued the work begun under his predecessor Richard Cordray and prosecuted Contreras on charges of theft, money laundering, tampering with records and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. She pleaded guilty June 22.
Other donations from the ill-gotten proceeds went to Congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, House Speaker John Boehner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. John McCain, Karl Rove, and former President George W. Bush.
Contreras called herself "acting treasurer," "acting secretary," or "chief fiscal officer" in paperwork the charity filed with states across the country establishing chapters of the charity. DeWine's office says she fraudulently helped solicit almost $2 million in donations in Ohio alone, but that "little if any were used to benefit veterans."
After the I-Team's series of reports and the investigation of the attorney general's office, a Cuyahoga County Grand Jury indicted Contreras and "Thompson" Oct. 13, 2010. "Thompson" had disappeared months earlier and is still on the loose.
Contreras apologized before the judge sentenced her "t the courts and my son", who sat in uniform watching her. She faced up to 30 years and likely will be deported when she completes her sentence.
Contreras said "I'd like to express my deepest remorse for each and every victim that was involved."
Prosecutors said she got a good deal. In a statement released by his office, DeWine said "This case makes clear that Ohio will not tolerate scam artists who steal in the name of those who have served our country. I commend the work of our charitable investigators and special prosecutors who worked diligently to bring those who took advantage of Ohioans' generosity to justice. However, it is important to note that our work in this case is not over until the man known as Bobby Thompson is apprehended and prosecuted for his alleged crimes."
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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.