In The New York Times, Ken Stern tells the story of how John Donald Cody, a former intelligence officer, put his expertise to use cheating charitable Americans. Under the assumed identity of Bobby Thompson, Cody set up a nonprofit called the US Navy Veterans Association and contracted with telemarketing firms to raise around $100 million in charitable contributions — ostensibly, for needy veterans. The organization, he claimed, had 41 state chapters, 66,000 members and was headed by one Jack L. Nimitz. None of that was true. The organization consisted only of Cody. The charity’s claimed purpose was also false. Most of the money it raised went to the telemarketers and much of the rest went to Cody or to Republican lawmakers he supported. Very little went to veterans.
This story was unwound in 2010 by two reporters at The Tampa Bay Times. Coda fled Florida, where he had run the “charity” out of his duplex apartment in Tampa. In April, 2012, the authorities found him in Portland, OR, where he was holding onto $981,650 — and almost two dozen fake ID cards — in a storage unit.
But none of these details are the most surprising part of this story. The most surprising part, Stern writes, is that most of what Cody did was “probably legal, or at least not specifically illegal.”
The alleged fraud was not that very, very little money ever went to Navy veterans. In fact, the fund-raising explicitly stated that a large portion of donations would go to cover telemarketing and other costs. Mr. Cody ran afoul of the law because he filed registration documents that contained false statements, because he stole the identity of the real Bobby Thompson, and because he pulled money from organizational accounts for his personal use. The irony is that he could have accomplished virtually his entire enrichment scheme without ever violating the law — and others have figured that out.