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Ohio witness: $100M scam suspect resisted queries

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THOMAS J. SHEERAN | October 8, 2013 11:07 AM EST | AP

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CLEVELAND — CLEVELAND (AP) — The former legal adviser to a charity at the center of an alleged $100 million fraud testified Tuesday that the suspected mastermind resisted efforts to identify anyone else involved with the organization.

Helen Mac Murray, returning to the witness stand for a second day, testified in detail about the man who identified himself to her as Bobby Thompson but who authorities say is Harvard-trained attorney John Donald Cody.

Mac Murray, who was the charity's general counsel, said Thompson repeatedly turned aside any attempt she made to meet board members, saying it was unnecessary.

Mac Murray said she started making inquiries about the charity's leadership when a newspaper reporter and a fundraising contractor began looking into the charity, the United States Navy Veterans Association of Tampa, Fla.

The witness said Thompson rejected her attempts to meet board members and top executives of the charity, saying it unnecessary and they wanted to keep a low profile.

"He did not feel the association had an obligation" to disclose its top leadership, Mac Murray told jurors.

At the same time, Mac Murray said Thompson pretended to be emailing association leaders and sent her copies. That happened "dozens and dozens and dozens" of times, she said.

When she traveled around the country to meet with state charity regulators, she suggested meeting with local chapter leaders, but Thompson also rejected that, she said.

Thompson said his association would not operate in nine or 10 states that required audits, according to Monday testimony by Mac Murray, a law partner of former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery. Their firm was paid more than $277,000 in legal fees by the charity, records show.

The defendant showered politicians, often Republicans, with political donations. Last week, the judge rejected a renewed defense request to subpoena testimony from leading Ohio Republicans including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.

Joseph Patituce, the court-appointed defense attorney, said the defendant's work was legal and followed federal tax regulations governing charities.

Jeff Testerman, a retired Tampa Bay Times reporter who broke stories that helped uncover the alleged fraud, testified Monday that he couldn't reach people identified by the charity as its accountant or internal auditor.

Under cross-examination as the defense tried to show it wasn't a one-man operation, Testerman acknowledged that several people had volunteered with the charity or served as a legal adviser.

The defendant disappeared for almost two years after his 2010 indictment. He was arrested last year in Portland, Ore., where agents and deputy marshals found him with fake IDs and a suitcase containing $980,000 in cash.