John Donald Cody Stole Millions in a Veterans Charity Scam
Using a fake identity ‘Bobby Thompson’ donated to political campaigns instead of helping vets
The U.S. Navy Veterans Association claimed to be a charity headquartered in Washington, D.C. Founded by “Bobby Thompson,” known to top politicians as a retired lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, the charity’s stated purpose was to support veterans and their families. Using telemarketing firms, the association secured contributions from donors big and small, collecting from everyday people who wanted to honor the service of men and woman in the U.S. military by giving back to veterans in need. While that was a noble cause, nothing about the U.S. Navy Veterans Association was what it seemed.
Buoyed by the eccentric Thompson, the association thrived on more than $20 million in revenue. Thompson’s status as a well-respected fund-raiser allowed him to circulate among Washington’s elite, pose for pictures with presidents and donate large sums to political campaigns under the guise of championing veterans. But when Jeff Testerman, an investigative journalist from Florida, tracked Thompson down to ask a simple question about one of his political donations, Thompson was evasive and combative. Testerman knew there was a secret hiding behind Thompson’s behavior and dug in. Little did Testerman know how deep the lies and secrets of the charity and Thompson went. The U.S. Navy Veterans Association wasn’t sending money to veterans; it was an elaborate scam. And Jeff Testerman discovered that its founder was not a retired naval officer and his name wasn’t Bobby Thompson — he was really John Donald Cody.
TIPS: If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam or would like to report fraud call The Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Anyone can become the victim of a scam, it’s important to be vigilant and know your vulnerabilities. For instance, if you are looking for a job you are more vulnerable to a work-at-home scam.
[00:00:00] Will Johnson: This week on AARP - The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:03] I've never seen anybody hide in plain sight like this.
[00:00:06] Nobody but him to this day knows exactly who he is or why he did what he did.
[00:00:13] He was an individual that under his fake name was able to gain access to the President of the United States and to a number of high level politicians.
[00:00:23] Will Johnson: Welcome back to AARP - The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Will Johnson, joined as always in the studio by AARP's Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale.
[00:00:31] Frank Abagnale: Great to be with you, Will.
[00:00:05] Will Johnson: This week, actually over the course of the next three weeks we are going to delve deep into the story of Captain Bobby Thompson. This was a veteran's charity scam that was fairly big news in parts of the country.
[00:00:44] Will Johnson: A lot of people might not have ever heard about it. I understand you, you have some familiarity with, with Bobby Thompson.
[00:00:50] Frank Abagnale: And the scam, which uh there are so many charity scams, so uh I'm familiar with quite a few different types of charity scams. Uh, today uh, more so than ever before, there are all of these so-called charity scams that people just start up, create a website, and then start soliciting people for money and people give money without ever verifying it is in fact legitimate, where is the money going? Wheat are they doing with the money? Um, I can't even tell you how many I get at home just in the mail uh every day that are just all types of charities. Some legitimate, uh some not legitimate, uh but there are so many out there that, you know, I would never give money or part with my money to anyone that I really didn't understand was it real, and this is a true charity, and also, how does the charity spend their money? I don't want to give money to a charity that spends 80% of those monies on administrative costs flying around and having dinners and uh going all over the country. I want to give the charity that's going to get the money in the hands of the people who need it.
[00:01:52] Will Johnson: Some scams are successful because they strike fear into people. Charity scams have that emotional hook, oftentimes, you know, the, a picture of a, of a, of a wounded or, or sick or mangy dog, you know or what have you. I mean they, they tug at the heart.
[00:02:06] Frank Abagnale: Especially ones that affect children, or that are charity scams for, that are giving money to help children that uh don't have a home, or children that are hungry, etc.
[00:02:15] Will Johnson: So you mentioned the mail. Charity scams can come in any number of ways, any person on a street corner in front of a store, they can come through the mail, email, phone.
[00:02:23] Frank Abagnale: Telephone call, exactly.
[00:02:25] Will Johnson: All right, well let's jump into today's story and for the next few weeks we will be hearing about Captain Bobby Thompson.
[00:02:34] Will Johnson: This story begins with a $500 check. It ends with over $100 million dollars stolen, missing, and possibly gone forever. It begins with a newspaper reporter and a hunch. It takes us to Florida, to Ohio, to Oregon, and back to Ohio. Along the way you’ll hear about connections to the CIA and military intelligence, political donations, and buried secrets. You'll also hear about a wanted felon who took photos with Presidents and politicians; a man willing to ignore his past. How much to believe and what to believe is up to you. If you've got anything to hide, Jeff Testerman is not the kind of guy you want digging around in your background.
[00:03:14] Jeff Testerman: I was mainly a government and courts uh kind of person. And was uh, pretty good with public records, and uh so that uh lent itself to uh investigative work in the government sector and in the court sector.
[00:03:30] Will Johnson: In late summer 2009, Testerman, a veteran investigative reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, was working on a story about a local candidate who appeared to be exaggerating some of his military credentials. Testerman found the name of a charity organization, The U.S. Navy Veterans Association, that had donated a $500 check to the candidate.
[00:03:48] Jeff Testerman: And I'm expecting, you know, that these people will sort of uh, be appreciative of uh me bringing this to the attention, maybe they didn't know what this guy was.
[00:03:58] Will Johnson: The U.S. Navy Veterans Association was a tax-exempt organization that claimed to raise money for U.S. Navy veterans and their families. Anyone could get a call from the organization asking for money. It's the type of call you're probably familiar with; someone asking for money for what sounds like a worthwhile cause. And the association had raised a lot of money from a lot of people, and it would be used for food, financial support/supplies, anything that could be considered helpful to a vet and his or her family. After calling around, he learned that the USNVA's Director of Development, Captain Bobby Thompson, lived in the Tampa area, actually just a few miles away.
[00:04:36] Jeff Testerman: I made the two mile drive out to his uh, place, I got his address, uh, and uh it was in a, a sector of uh, sort of a uh, a rough part of town, in uh Ybor City, which is outside of uh, Tampa. The duplex he lived in was uh, not impressive, shall we say. I would call it falling down maybe or dilapidated.
[00:05:00] Will Johnson: Testerman pulls up unannounced and finds Capt. Bobby Thompson right away.
[00:05:03] Jeff Testerman: Thompson was outside the duplex on a cell phone, in flip flops, uh shorts, a t-shirt, and a Navy hat. I went up and introduced myself.
[00:05:14] Will Johnson: And you recognized him because he had done...
[00:05:16] Jeff Testerman: Well I, I mean I had the address and I mean he fit the MO. He had the Navy hat on, I says, Commander Thompson, or I said, uh Mr. Thompson, and he said, "yes." He knew my reputation. He knew who I was. He read the newspaper, he knew that I was an investigative reporter, he knew that the subjects of my stories uh frankly didn't fare well ov--, over time.
[00:05:38] Will Johnson: So maybe he, so, so maybe he thinks great, this guy's digging into my past. Did you let him know pretty quickly then that you were looking into this, this councilman and just wanted some reactions from him?
[00:05:50] Jeff Testerman: Absolutely. I had no reason to suspect anything, uh about him. As I said, I, I knew nothing about the group. Uh, had just uh, looked him up online a couple days earlier, and immediately uh, told him that I was there because I wanted to ask him about a campaign contribution. Uh, but uh, nonetheless, uh even though this was on uh a different uh level than he might have anticipated, he uh uh gave me a very, very hostile reaction. And uh, talked to me for a few minutes, but damn near did everything to throw me off his property.
[00:06:28] Will Johnson: Interesting. And so you, you must be surprised as this is all happening.
[00:06:33] Jeff Testerman: Well, I'm really taken aback, because like I say, I, I believe I'm going to come to this group uh, in good faith. I'm going to say that uh, I'm here to ask about a campaign contribution, there are some questions that have arisen about the, the party to whom you've given the check, and um, I wonder if you could uh, uh react for me and tell me uh uh what you think about it. And I'm thinking I'm going to, I'm going to grab a quick quote, get in my car, go back to the office, write my story, and that'll, that'll be the last I ever hear of the Navy Veterans Association.
[00:07:04] Will Johnson: Given the reaction he gets, Testerman like any good investigative reporter is curious.
[00:07:09] Jeff Testerman: I uh, sort of went uh on, on the uh offensive and, and began asking maybe more questions than uh was healthy at the time. Uh, including questions about his background. He said, well I'm a, I'm uh Bobby Thompson. I'm a U.S. Navy Reserve uh Lieutenant Commander, Retired. And I think I must have said something about his background, and he said, "You know, I share a name with a relative or two, and you know, my credit's been corrupted, and if you look, look me up, you'll see that I go uh four different places." Well that was, that was a little more information than I was asking for.
[00:07:49] Will Johnson: What does he mean by that, four different places?
[00:07:51] Jeff Testerman: Uh, he means that um, you can't trace me back and figure out exactly who I am.
[00:07:58] Will Johnson: So if you really want to get the attention of an investigative reporter, Capt. Bobby Thompson is doing just that. And the conversation isn't getting any more cordial.
[00:08:06] Jeff Testerman: And he asked... and he was in my face and pointing his finger at me and uh, uh saying uh buddy, you don't uh you don't need to be here, and uh frankly uh don't come back, and uh he, I was close enough to him to know that he'd had a drink or two by 10 in the morning. So um, I didn't hang around too long.
[00:08:33] Will Johnson: Testerman gets back in his car and heads back to the office.
[00:08:37] Jeff Testerman: I did leave with a, a vague sense that I'd pulled on a string and something was unraveling, and I didn't know what it was, but there was just, call it the reporter's hunch, and I wondered what the heck that was all about. That's not what it was supposed to be and by the way, he didn't look like a Navy commander, he didn't live in a place that looked like it ought to be uh the residence of a Navy commander, and I just had a sense that something's out of place here.
[00:09:07] Will Johnson: Back at his desk, Testerman tells the story to his Chief Researcher, John Martin. If anyone could dig into Thompson's past, Testerman knew Martin could. They both started pouring through the USNVA's website, over 2500 pages long trying to get some information. But the story just gets stranger.
[00:09:25] Will Johnson: They can't seem to find anything about the CEO, a man by the name of Jack Nimitz. A search for other board members comes up empty. This is an organization with 12 board members, 75 state officers, and over 40 state chapters, but nothing comes up. They do have an address, an office on M Street in Washington DC.
[00:09:44] Jeff Testerman: I was on the phone trying to track somebody down at the Washington uh suite on M Street in Washington DC. Ultimately after about a week of this, uh we called uh our Washington Bureau, and we asked a reporter up there, could you run down to M Street and knock on the door of the Navy Veterans Office in uh, at their suite there, 'cause we can't seem to raise anybody but the receptionist. And he got in his car and he drove down, and he came back, and he sent us a picture and he said, "Here's, here's the, here's the office suite for The Navy Veterans." It was a rented mailbox.
[00:10:26] Will Johnson: Holy cow.
[00:10:27] Jeff Testerman: We knew we had something. We were just positive we had something.
[00:10:35] Will Johnson: So eventually you do find someone, and tell me if I'm jumping ahead too far, but you find Helen MacMurray, and attorney, an outside counsel for USNVA.
[00:10:44] Jeff Testerman: I got MacMurray on the phone, and she was just as real as she could be. Uh, she was so real in fact, uh, uh that by the second time I had talked to her, she had tried to put the fear of God into me by saying that you know, the Navy Veterans is a real, is the real deal and they have real contributions and they've got a real history in this uh community in this country, and you'd better not trifle this group or I'll have you in court in about three days.
[00:11:13] Will Johnson: Helen MacMurray is now a law professor in Ohio, but at the time she was practicing law fulltime, and serving as general counsel for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. The USNVA had offices in states across the country, but Helen worked out of her home office in Ohio. Coming from a military family herself, she liked the fact that the association was doing good things for Navy vets.
[00:11:34] Helen MacMurray: There would be consumer complaints that uh would be filed against the association, and occasionally an attorney general's office would open an investigation, and so I would handle the investigation uh for the association, um, and then either get the association to change its conduct or we entered into a settlement agreement or those types of things.
[00:11:54] Will Johnson: And if, if you could, let me get like sort of your first impressions. Can you share what, what knowledge you had of, of the USNVA or, or what the work they were doing? It all sounded quite uh it sounded like they were doing good things.
[00:12:08] Helen MacMurray: Absolutely. I am the daughter of a Navy veteran. We have a lot of Navy folks in our family, and I was kind of proud to be representing that association.
[00:12:18] Will Johnson: And what was your understanding um, of what, what their, what the charity was all about? What, what were they doing as far as you knew?
[00:12:27] Helen MacMurray: My understanding was that they were providing a variety of programs to Navy vets and/or their families and that could be involved with educational materials, it could be involved with um, sending uh uh different backpacks and, and things like that, uh care packages if you will, overseas to, to veterans. Um, they also did um, political uh donations, so that they could continue to promote their messages. Um, they had a website of over 2500 pages that had a lot of resources and references as, as well, but just kind of like typical of what you see an association do that sets um, working with veterans or military or police, that type of thing.
[00:13:13] Will Johnson: Helen MacMurray was surprised that her only point of contact with the association was Capt. Bobby Thompson, and by all accounts, he was a colorful character. His hair was long in front, a pompadour some would say, wild beard and moustache, and he seemed to have access to some very high level politicians in Washington DC. He had his photo taken with senators, and even the President George W. Bush. And he was an active contributor to the Republican Party.
[00:13:37] Helen MacMurray: Yes, I, I did start to learn about his contacts with very prominent political figures in the national scene and uh recalled specifically that I got a Christmas card from him one year and on the front of the card was a picture of him with Bush... the former President Bush. And there was Giuliani he got pictures with and um, Reagan, Bush, um, you know, other important, very important national political people.
[00:14:04] Will Johnson: And as MacMurray comes to learn, he was also well versed in legal matters and jargon.
[00:14:09] Helen MacMurray: Every conversation with him was like a Supreme Court argument. Uh, he would easily keep me on the phone for an hour at a time, um, kind of raging against people who want to try to impinge on the free speech of him and the Navy Vets. But to be honest with you, I mean uh they were interesting discussions too about the 1st Amendment.
[00:14:30] Will Johnson: His home base was Florida, but you, what you talked to him on the phone it didn't really matter where he was. You would have, it sounds like long conversations and he would wax poetic about the law and, and that could be interesting and, and entertaining it sounds like, to some degree.
[00:14:44] Helen MacMurray: Um, to some degree. I mean sometimes they could come at 8 or 9 o'clock at night, then not so much.
[00:14:50] Will Johnson: How, how, other than the conversations being like that, how would you describe him? Was he a friendly guy? Did you enjoy sort of, I mean other than getting a call late at night, how would you describe him, your first impressions?
[00:15:03] Helen MacMurray: I, I thought he was a lawyer wannabe. You know you get people like that, you know, they, they enjoy the law and they know a little bit about the law, and they want to pretend that they're, that they're lawyers.
[00:15:13] Will Johnson: We watch a lot of Law & Order or something on TV.
[00:15:15] Helen MacMurray: Exactly. Exactly, yeah, yeah, so that's kind of really what I thought he was.
[00:15:19] Will Johnson: So as Helen MacMurray explains, she was just doing her job. And as it turns out, part of her job is fielding questions from Jeff Testerman back in Tampa, Florida.
[00:15:27] Jeff Testerman: Even though they were, showed that they were real people, real lawyers, credentialled, uh, legal help, uh, were the opposite of transparency.
[00:15:38] Will Johnson: So Testerman has enough red flags to keep his investigation going. His first bizarre meeting with Thompson, not being able to track down the CEO or anyone other than Thompson, and the fact that attorneys wouldn't turn over tax returns, but back in Ohio, MacMurray was taking her marching orders from Thompson, and in fact, she's still having those long conversations over the phone, never in person.
[00:15:58] Will Johnson: And my understanding is you spoke to him on the phone for a year and before you met him in person.
[00:16:01] Helen MacMurray: Years.
[00:16:02] Will Johnson: Years before you met him in person.
[00:16:03] Helen MacMurray: Yes.
[00:16:04] Will Johnson: Okay.
[00:16:04] Helen MacMurray: In fact, it was an accident that I met him in person. Um, he and I were both in Seattle, uh I was there for an Attorney General meeting and uh there was a fundraiser for the uh Attorney General, um, of Washington, um, and coincidentally uh Bobby was out there attending it, and I of course went to it since I was there as well, and uh you know he walked up to me and uh said, "Are you the, the Helen MacMurray from Columbus, Ohio?" And I said, "Yes I am," and he said, "I'm Bobby Thompson."
[00:16:36] Will Johnson: And did you know immediately who he was when he stood in front of you before he asked that question?
[00:16:41] Helen MacMurray: No idea. I had no idea, and plus, he looked bizarre. Um, he had this huge uh unruly head um, of black, jet black hair. Um, he had a, an unkempt mustache and, and beard, and he was wearing a suit out of like the '70s, it was a, a brown suit with a black shirt and a black tie and it was you know, very dated; a little worn, rumpled.
[00:17:09] Will Johnson: Back in Florida, Testerman isn't giving up. The story's too fishy. Too many red flags. So, he's requesting tax records from the IRS and gradually they start trickling in.
[00:17:19] Jeff Testerman: And one of the first things you see is boy, they're bringing in a lot of money. They are bringing in millions of dollars. And this is where we first understood that they had hired uh professional telemarketing firms to raise money for them. For every dollar they raised, they keep 85 cents. And...
[00:17:43] Will Johnson: That's a lot.
[00:17:44] Jeff Testerman: That's a lot, and this sort of raises a question about, is that, is that uh, uh is that kosher? And you do a little more work and you find out that, you know what, there's actually a Supreme Court decision that says uh solicitation uh is a form of free speech and it's protected and whether they keep 99 cents or 1 cent uh it's still a, a protected uh type of speech.
[00:18:10] Will Johnson: Well who would hire somebody who's keeping that much?
[00:18:13] Jeff Testerman: Well somebody that uh is uh, knows that maybe 6 million dollars will come in, and I get to keep one. Uh, a million dollars is a million dollars, right? Uh, even if your telemarketers uh keep five.
[00:18:25] Will Johnson: For comparison, about 89 cents of every dollar Doctors Without Borders raises goes to supporting their missions. In fact, to become accredited by the BBB (inaudible) alliance, the watchdog requires charities to spend no more than 35% of their contributions on fundraising. For Testerman, the plot's getting thicker, and things weren't getting any easier for Helen MacMurray. Capt. Bobby Thompson reached out asking her to handle getting the paperwork together for an audit of the USNVA's Connecticut office, again, one of the many USNVA offices around the country.
[00:18:57] Helen MacMurray: He came to our office here in Ohio for two full days, and he brought with him all of the Connecticut receipts. He claimed that they had been in a station wagon in Connecticut that was flooded. Um, there was a news article, a news story, you know, a month or so before we met about a bad flood in Connecticut. Um, and so there was missing receipts, there was destroyed receipts, there was uh receipts that were very hard to read. And we spent basically the two days going through the receipts identifying what was responses to the IRS's request.
[00:19:34] Will Johnson: Did you have any reason to be concerned at that point or just feel like the bookkeeping was not what it should be?
[00:19:41] Helen MacMurray: There were uh quite a few things that were concerning. There was a, a pretty large number um, of personal items that were being purchased um, and reportedly being sent uh overseas to veterans in those backpacks I mentioned, and you know, things like mustache wax and black hair dye, okay. If you recall my description of Bobby, um, you know that was a, a certainly obviously used for him, and then there were things that obviously weren't getting shipped overseas, like six-packs of beer and frozen dinner entrees. So um, you know we spent the time working with him, so he understood what was a proper um, purchase for a, a nonprofit to make and what was not. Um, so we kind of tried to use it as a learning opportunity.
[00:20:33] Will Johnson: And, and what was his attitude? I mean, so you're finding mustache wax, hair dye, beer, uh frozen dinners. I feel like that would have been an awkward conversation to have.
[00:20:44] Helen MacMurray: (giggles) He insisted with his last breath that everything was for the veterans, okay? I mean he even got into this whole debate with, with one lawyer about whether it was legal or not to ship beer to servicemen serving overseas. I mean he just, he was right. He was 100 percent right and we couldn't tell him otherwise.
[00:21:06] Will Johnson: There was an instance and was it the morning of the audit where you met with him and am I right that he didn't seem to be in the best of shape?
[00:21:12] Helen MacMurray: He was more disheveled um, very nervous, um, I, I, I mean he was almost, I wouldn't use the word terrified, but you could just tell that, that he was a lot more nervous than, you know I mean IRS audits are never going to be good, but he was, he wasn't quite trembling, but he was just exceptionally nervous.
[00:21:33] Will Johnson: Correct me if I'm wrong. Did I read that you could smell liquor on him that morning or it seemed like maybe...
[00:21:37] Helen MacMurray: Oh, yes. Actually um, when he was at my, my law office, um, and this is first thing in the morning, he smelled like a, a, it was just crazy. It was a great smell of alcohol.
[00:21:52] Will Johnson: As MacMurray's handling the Connecticut audit, Jeff Testerman and his researcher, John Martin, are hard at work. His file on Thompson is growing, but he wants something else.
[00:22:01] Jeff Testerman: And we finally uh, uh discovered that uh we had, we had forgotten to check the state registrations that the state chapters of the Navy Veterans must file in the particular states that they're in. John turned up uh the first really interesting uh thing that sort of heightened our uh scent on this, this whole uh project when uh one of the states, I think it might have been Oregon, sent him uh the filings that the Navy Veterans had uh done and in it was a picture of Bobby Thompson standing next to and shaking the hand of President George W. Bush.
[00:22:45] Bush: In 1954, President Eisenhower issued the first Presidential Veterans Day Proclamation. He set aside November the 11th in order that a grateful nation might pay appropriate homage to the Veterans of all its wars, who have contributed so much to the preservation of our nation. So this Veterans' Day, Laura and I join our fellow Americans in saluting all the great (fade out)...
[00:23:09] Jeff Testerman: We just about fell out of our chairs, you know...
[00:23:12] Will Johnson: Here's this guy that you ran into out--, outside of an apartment unit, maybe smelling of alcohol, uh in flip flops and putting his finger in your face, and then all of a sudden, you've got this picture.
[00:23:21] Jeff Testerman: And this, this guy is standing with the President. What is up? What are we missing here?
[00:23:26] Will Johnson: What's going on? Now, remember, the USNVA had offices and chapters and states around the country, and supposedly each office has a dedicated officer.
[00:23:35] Jeff Testerman: And uh there was a, a second uh element to the state filings. The state filings unlike anything else we ever had, including the IRS tax returns, uh, gave the state officers not just their names, but their addressees, and so we began to check the addresses for the state officers, and uh one of the very first ones we did was an officer by the name of uh, Howard Bonifacio out in uh New Mexico, and we checked the, the address that was given on the state filing there, and it turned out to be a piece of vacant land that had nothing on it but uh, mesquite bushes. And we said, well, let's, let's dig some more. We found a few others that were vacant lots. We found uh some uh that were hotels, we found some that were condominiums, you know where there'd, the officer, there was no, uh listing for the officer at the condominium or in the hotel. So these were, this became a tipping point, because [00:24:36] these were fraudulent or phony filings with state authorities. So at that point, uh we said, uh we, we, let's, let's publish this thing, but it was 7 months from the moment I'd seen him in August of 2009 to March 2010 when we published our series which was uh headlined uh, "Under the Radar."
[00:25:00] Will Johnson: And how, how long was the article?
[00:25:01] Jeff Testerman: You know it ran over, uh it was uh it was, it was a pretty, it was a long series. It ran over, I think, three days to begin with, so we put it up front, played it big, uh, followed it up and we're damn sure we had it right.
[00:25:16] Will Johnson: Helen MacMurray's life's still not getting any easier. Surprisingly the IRS had pretty much given the association a clean bill of health after the audit. She learns later it was a training audit and perhaps that had something to do with the outcome, but Testerman's article's getting a lot of attention; not just in Florida, but across the country.
[00:25:33] Will Johnson: And so you came out of the meeting with auditors. How are you feeling at this point about uh Bobby Thompson and what's going on?
[00:25:38] Helen MacMurray: Nervous, 'cause, it was a three or four day front page series, okay, and there was frequent follow-up articles. And as the press continued, we started to get subpoenas from state Attorneys General, um, and then we started getting lawsuits filed.
[00:25:58] Will Johnson: So all of a sudden, what had started with fairly run of the mill legal issues, uh, that you were able to resolve had become something, something bigger and more nefarious.
[00:26:08] Helen MacMurray: Uh, absolutely, absolutely.
[00:26:09] Will Johnson: And what, did you have conversations, ongoing conversations with him during this time?
[00:26:13] Helen MacMurray: He became increasingly um, nuts. When I went down to Florida when the uh St. Petersburg Times article first came out, um, I met him at 7:30 in ho--, in my hotel for breakfast, and we met for an hour and he drank four Bloody Marys.
[00:26:34] Will Johnson: And so what happened? You, at some point did you go to the authorities?
[00:26:38] Helen MacMurray: I did. I did. Um, so at, at a particular point, um, I indicate that um, you know I, I need to have certain information, and um, he, he was, I couldn’t, I was not able to, he, he told me I could have whatever I wanted, um, and then I flew down to Florida uh immediately, and I met with um, her name is Blanca Contreras.
[00:27:04] Will Johnson: The meeting with Contreras was odd, but perhaps Helen was used to odd things happening around Bobby Thompson. At any rate, he told Helen she was the one with the records and could help her out.
[00:27:14] Helen MacMurray: And uh, I walked in in--, into her apartment and uh I said, "I want to see all the financials, all the records of the Navy Vets Association. And she just freaked, and she, at... originally said no, uh nobody but Bobby can give permission for that, and I said, "I talked to Bobby. He gave me the permission," you know, and so she disappears for a little bit, and she's converted her garage into a, like a home office for the association. And so she comes back out and she points to a file cabinet and she says, uh, "Everything is in there." But, as I got started to go through the files, I had, I started to notice that even though each state had a different um, executive director, many of them had the same Social Security number, okay. So it looked like he, they were falsifying that, which um, of course is an offense in every state, and then in a couple of the files, um, where there [00:28:14] were women who were the executive directors, I found tracing paper and on the tracing paper was how, were someone had practiced this person's signature. So that was enough for me. I'm like, this is indicative of criminal activity. And I literally drove across the street to the Florida Attorney General's Office who called the FBI.
[00:28:34] Will Johnson: And what happened from there? Did they get right, did they get involved right away?
[00:28:37] Helen MacMurray: They they spent the evening, well into the early hours of the morning interviewing me. I mean it was kind of almost like the, you know with the bulb, you know, the bare light bulb over your head, you know.
[00:28:44] Will Johnson: Right, right, right.
[00:28:47] Helen MacMurray: It was pretty much that, you know.
[00:28:48] Will Johnson: It must have felt like guilt by association at this point.
[00:28:50] Helen MacMurray: It was, it was nerve-wracking. I mean I had to consult with you know, 'cause I also had this attorney/client privilege I have to be, I have to deal with. I can't, you know, but now an ongoing crime is an exception to the, the privilege, you know, so I had to consult with and, and hire and retain an ethics counsel to help me ensure I was doing everything um, you know professionally uh correct with regards to ethics as well. Um, but at the end of the day um, uh I uh I, I had an affidavit that I signed for them based on what I told them, and then they um, subsequently used that to uh conduct a search warrant at Blanca Contreras's home and um, they arrested Blanca Contreras and then they had a warrant out for the arrest of who was then known as Bobby Thompson.
[00:29:37] Will Johnson: But Jeff Testerman could have told police they wouldn't find him, at least not in the duplex in Florida.
[00:29:42] Jeff Testerman: Thompson disappeared in the middle of the night. We never even knew it, and uh, was gone and nobody knew where, where he was, including his attorneys. He was gone.
[00:29:55] Will Johnson: And I'm back with AARP's Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. So we know that uh Bobby Thompson is in the wind, as they say. They do say that, right, at the FBI? Or do I watch too many TV shows?
[00:30:04] Frank Abagnale: Disappeared. No, it's disappeared.
[00:30:07] Will Johnson: Oh, they don't even use that anymore, okay. All right, so he, he has disappeared, and uh clearly uh this scam is, is much bigger than, than anyone could have imagined. We'll hear more about it next week. In the meantime, does any of it shock you? This charity scam, I mean it's a Navy charity, so obviously that's tugging at the heart strings of military folks.
[00:30:28] Frank Abagnale: No, it doesn't, because again, it is so easy to even set up a fake charity. I mean to be able to go and just uh, get a name, create a very elaborate website, might be on the website, you might say we've been around for 25 years. If people don't check those things, you can say anything you want, you can make it look as elaborate as you want, uh and again, there's a return on your investment. You're going to make a lot of money with people starting to send you money, even if they're just sending you $10 an individual. That money adds up to a great deal of money. So there, again, in so many charity scams out there, and then when we get into a political time where we're getting into people running for office, uh, then you have even more scams that go on, uh that you want to support this person, but they really have nothing to do with that person who's running; they're just using their name to get you to send them uh money.
[00:31:19] Will Johnson: How can you check to know if a uh candidate or political organization or group is legitimate?
[00:31:24] Frank Abagnale: Two ways. First of all, there is, of course, the Fraud Watch Network. So you can call the Fraud Watch Network and basically find out through speaking to an advisor on the uh Fraud Watch Team that basically can tell you, we don't have a listing for this uh charity, uh we've already had complaints about this charity. There's the Better Business Bureau, uh that keeps very good records about these charities; who they are, whether they're real or not, and of course, the Attorney General of your state who can verify whether that charity's real or not, but also will act if you've actually sent money to that charity, but you come to find out it's not legitimate, the Attorney General in that state is more apt to take action about that than any other law enforcement agency, local or federal.
[00:32:09] Will Johnson: All right, so we will return next week to the uh second part of our story of our three-part story about Capt. Bobby Thompson.
[00:32:16] Will Johnson: For more information and resources on how to protect yourself or a loved one from becoming a victim of a scam, you can visit AARP.org/fraudwatchnetwork. Many thanks to our producers Julie Getz and Brook Ellis, audio engineer Julio Gonzales, and of course, my cohost Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. For The Perfect Scam, I'm Will Johnson.
END OF TRANSCRIPT
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