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Claimed mastermind of $100M veterans charity fraud, a long-ago Harvard law grad, awaits jury verdict

Posted Nov 13, 2013 4:20 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An Ohio jury won't have much of a defense perspective to rely on as members decide whether a 66-year-old Harvard Law School graduate committed crimes as the alleged mastermind of a claimed $100 million fraud operated under the guise of a military veterans charity.

The defendant—who identifies himself as Bobby Thompson, though prosecutors say he is John Donald Cody— did not testify in his own defense, and his lawyer presented no witnesses and gave no closing argument, the Associated Press reports. The defendant faces multiple counts including theft, money laundering, racketeering and identity theft charges concerning his work with the United States Navy Veterans Association, which was headquartered in Florida but registered in Ohio and operated in dozens of states.

Jurors in the Cleveland trial were "visibly shocked and surprised," as the Plain Dealer puts it, when attorney Joseph Patituce said the defense would rest in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court case Tuesday without presenting any witnesses.

They were similarly shocked Wednesday as the defense waived a closing argument, the Plain Dealer says in a subsequent article.

Patituce later said his client agreed with the “purely strategic” decision not to present a closing argument, the newspaper reports, explaining that the approach deprived the government of a chance to hammer home final points in a rebuttal. Characterizing the prosecution's closing as a 90-minute repeat of information already heard by the jury, he told the newspaper “What I heard from the prosecutor convinced me to waive. I thought, 'Let’s just let the jury take it and go.' ”

It appears that Patituce may have been hampered by his client: The attorney told the jury for weeks they could expect to hear from his client, who appeared in court dressed in a black suit, dress shirt and tie, his hair upswept in a classic pompadour style, and took notes on a legal pad during trial, the Tampa Bay Times recounts. But the defendant was recently seen and heard beating his head against the walls of his courthouse holding cell, and on Tuesday he appeared in court tieless with his shirt unbutttoned to the navel and his hair disheveled. At the judge's urging, he buttoned up his shirt and combed his hair before the jury saw him that way.

However, on Wednesday he appeared in similar condition, then buttoned up his shirt but left his hair in disarray, the AP says. Jurors stared as they entered the courtroom.

Patituce said his client decided not to testify because he feared for his mental and physical state during an aggressive cross-examination.

Earlier during the trial, the two sides battled with physical evidence. Patituce showed the jury a large photo of his client with former President George W. Bush. The government then introduced into evidence mugs displaying the same photo that the defendant had once been presented as gifts, then put them into service as pen and pencil holders at the prosecution table, another Plain Dealer article reports. The government also dumped nearly $1 million in cash seized when the defendant was arrested in 2012 on a table in front of jurors at one point.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "Feds Say Suspect in $100M Scam Is Fugitive Harvard Law Grad Charged in 1984 Client Funds Theft"

Plain Dealer: "Back when Bobby Thompson was John Cody, a bright high school student with a pompadour"

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