By Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine
The news of the spring capture of the man known as Bobby Thompson was an exciting development for my office. Many hours of hard work from the Charitable Law Section, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), and the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission have gone into this case. Ohio has led the way on national efforts to put a stop to the fraudulent activities of Thompson and the sham organization he ran, the United States Navy Veterans Association (USNVA).
Efforts to freeze funds and redirect them to organizations that truly assist veterans were top priorities for the Charitable Law Section after news accounts highlighted disturbing findings about the man and the organization.
Thompson went on the lam, moving from place to place and living like a pauper. He was found and taken into custody in Portland, Ore., where law enforcement discovered a storage locker containing almost a million dollars in cash and materials related to multiple aliases.
Thompson is awaiting trial in Cleveland and has not yet revealed his real name. He stole the identity of man named Bobby Thompson of Washington state and also used a variety of other identities.
Following Thompson’s capture, the Attorney General’s Office received e-mails from across the country offering thanks and congratulations on its successful investigation.
“I wanted to say thanks for finally finding Bobby Thompson,” wrote a Florida veteran. “There are so few organizations that will help disabled veterans anyway. So who is hurt by this man? All disabled veterans.”
The USNVA case is an example of a huge, complex, multi-million-dollar scam that required substantial resources for regulators and investigators to track and act upon. And while the Bobby Thompson situation may be unique in terms of its size, the charitable sector can be a target for scam artists who operate on a smaller, but just as damaging level.
Unfortunately, too many people are willing to misuse the sector with less than charitable intentions and take advantage of Ohioans’ generosity. Often, they don’t start with that intention. Many find opportunities through loosely organized and poorly governed organizations.
All of these situations cast a shadow on the truly remarkable work of charities that enhance our quality of life and meet important community needs. I encourage all charitable leaders to protect the integrity of the charitable sector.
Here are some suggested steps:
Help elevate the visibility of sound board governance among all of your groups. Organizations with strong governance are less likely to be targeted for fraud, and if problems develop, they are more quickly discovered. My office has materials online, such as our Guide for Charity Board Members, that can help board members understand how to fulfill their legal obligations. Newsletters, webinars, and live trainings are some of the services we provide in an effort to prevent problems. Please spread the word!
If you observe problems, please file a complaint through my website at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or contact the Charitable Law Section at 800-282-0515. Whether it is an odd solicitation call at dinner time or a local organization you think might not be legitimate, we want to know. If we can take action right away, we can help limit the funds available to scam artists.
Talk to your friends and family members about the importance of being wise donors. Too many people respond to charitable solicitations without asking questions or reviewing information about the group. Donors should know what kind of difference their investment will make. In addition to using the various online tools available, potential donors often can learn a lot about a charity by asking others if they know of a group’s impact.
Protecting the charitable sector and its integrity is a job too big and important to leave to just state charity regulators and the IRS. It requires a commitment and action from everyone who values the importance of ensuring a vibrant and dynamic charitable community.