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Man sentenced to 28 years in Ohio veterans charity fraud case

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A man convicted of running a fake charity for U.S. Navy veterans that raised nearly $100 million from donors across the United States, was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Monday by an Ohio judge.

John Donald Cody, 67, known by his alias Bobby Thompson, was convicted by a Cuyahoga County jury in November on 23 counts, including identity fraud and using a false name in a scam that spanned 40 states.

Cuyahoga County Judge Steven Gall also fined Cody more than $6 million. Gall admonished Cody for the potential impact the fraud might have on donations to legitimate charities.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office spent years investigating the case, said he was glad Cody was being held accountable for his "despicable actions."

"It's horrible when a scammer victimizes people, but to do it under the cover story of helping veterans is just plain evil," said DeWine.

Prosecutors said Cody ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA), a bogus charity headquartered in Tampa, Florida.

Authorities charged him as Thompson, but later said he was Cody, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former member of the U.S. Army's military intelligence unit.

Cody is a cold-case fugitive wanted by federal authorities since 1987 on accusations of embezzling from an estate, authorities have said. He also appeared on a Federal Bureau of Investigation 'Wanted' poster for espionage, but the FBI declined to discuss that case.

Prosecutors said the charity collected more than $2 million from Ohio donors, which Cody and others moved to other banks, eventually stealing the funds through checks and ATM withdrawals. Tens of millions more was taken from donors in other states.

The fraud was the second-largest U.S. charity scam prosecuted after the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy case in the 1990s, in which victims lost $135 million, Daniel Borochoff, director of CharityWatch, a philanthropy watchdog group, had said previously.

Cody faced up to 66 years in prison when he was convicted.

His attorney, Joseph Patituce, said that at Cody's age, the 28-year sentence amounted to life in prison and promised to appeal.

"When I talked to jurors who came to the court for sentencing, they said they might have voted differently if they would have heard from him," Patituce said in an interview.

Patituce told jurors in his opening statement he would call Cody to the stand to help explain why his client had so many different identities, hinting that he worked for the CIA. However, Cody never took the stand.

(Editing by David Bailey and Bernadette Baum)

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