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Verdict reached in $100 million bogus Navy charity case

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A Cleveland jury on Wednesday reached a verdict in the trial of a man charged with defrauding donors of nearly $100 million with a scam charity for U.S. Navy veterans, but the decision won't be read until Thursday.

The fraud allegedly committed by Bobby Thompson is one of the largest involving a charity in the state of Ohio, according to prosecutors. The case, which was prosecuted in Cuyahoga County common pleas court, involves donors in 40 states.

Thompson, who faces 10 to 80 years in prison if convicted, did not call any defense witnesses. Cuyahoga County Judge Steven Gall said the verdict will be read Thursday morning.

Prosecutors said Thompson ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA), a bogus charity headquartered in Florida. Authorities say Thompson fled Florida using fake identities after a local reporter in Tampa began digging into his past and failed to find anyone else connected to USNVA.

Though he was charged as Bobby Thompson, authorities identify him as John Donald Cody, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former member of the U.S. Army's military intelligence unit who was wanted by the FBI for an unrelated espionage charge.

Thompson's alleged co-conspirator Blanca Contreras is serving a five-year prison sentence in Ohio for her role in this scam after pleading guilty in June 2011.

Defense attorney Joseph Patituce told reporters Thompson's behavior has been erratic since an altercation with a sheriff's deputy last week, which ended with Thompson pounding his head against a wall in his court holding cell, leaving a bloody mark.

Gall said Thompson's behavior seemed "designed and calculated to gain sympathy with the jury and disrupt court proceedings."

Patituce said he didn't think the behavior was a ploy for sympathy, and noted that Thompson faces spending the rest of his life in prison. "I think the stress got to him," he said.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Diane Craft)

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