Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another Minnesota political contribution from alleged fugitive fraudster 'Bobby Thompson' discovered

A Ripple in Stillwater Exclusive

By Karl Bremer

As the nationwide manhunt for the fugitive commander of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA) known as “Bobby Thompson” widens, the alleged fraudster’s connection to Minnesota Republicans deepens.

The USNVA was allegedly an elaborate nationwide scam operating as a veterans charity and led by a Florida con artist who stole the identity of another man named “Bobby Thompson.” The organization may have collected as much as $100 million from 2002-2009, most of it unaccounted for. Some of it is suspected to have been funnelled into Republican political campaigns. More than $1.56 million was collected by the USNVA Minnesota Chapter from 2004-2009, and Republican candidates and causes in Minnesota received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from "Thompson" during that time.

The story received national attention when it appeared on ABC Nightly News November 10.

Ripple in Stillwater has learned that following “Thompson’s” controversial $10,000 donation to a Michele Bachmann fundraiser in Minneapolis April 7 featuring former Alaska half-term governor Sarah Palin--the last known contribution the donor-on-the-lam made--he gave $5,000 to a Republican-leaning Minnesota-based political action committee called Patriot PAC on April 26.

Patriot PAC was formed in 2009 by Joey Gerdin, a Republican political operative who serves as its chair. Gerdin was Finance Director of the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) from 2007-2008, during which time the man known as “Bobby Thompson” gave $5,000 to the HRCC and attended a Republican National Convention HRCC event in St. Paul. Next to Gerdin, who donated $11,100 to her own PAC, “Thompson” is Patriot PAC’s second largest contributor.

Gerdin says she doesn’t remember how she became connected with “Thompson.” Because of his donation to her PAC, she’s been contacted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which has a nationwide arrest warrant out on “Thompson” for identity fraud.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office has aggressively pursued the case and claims donations to the USNVA weren't used to aid veterans but instead, diverted to political causes by "Thompson." It earlier had a nationwide arrest warrant out on "Thompson" for identity fraud, and more recently indicted "Thompson" and an alleged accomplice on corruption, money laundering and theft charges.

The Ohio AG's Office also has released a number of photos of the man known as "Bobby Thompson" posing with prominent Republican politicians such as George W. Bush, John McCain and John Boehner, as well as Republican operative Karl Rove.

To Gerdin, Thompson was just another political donor prospect. When raising money for the HRCC, says Gerdin, “I would just call anyone and everyone. I honestly don’t even remember if I cold-called him or he cold-called me. He was coming in for the RNC (Republican National Convention), and I was having a fundraiser downtown with the House caucus.”

Gerdin says she met the alleged con man in St. Paul at the fundraiser she hosted.

“He seemed like a nice guy, completely congenial, supportive of veterans. Seemed like your typical patriot to me.”

The Ohio Attorney General investigator asked her about bank records for the donation to her PAC, she says.

“The check that I got came from him personally, that I know,” she says.

While some politicians—including Bachmann and reportedly the Republican Party of Minnesota—have donated money they received from “Thompson” to other veterans groups following the glare of bad publicity, Gerdin says she has no intention of doing so at this time.

“The money was given to me from an individual who wanted to elect veterans to office … that’s what I basically used it for,” she says. She says she will eventually look further into the matter once things settle down with her current duties as finance director for 8th District Congressman-elect Chip Cravaack.

For reasons yet unknown, “Bobby Thompson,” a Florida resident with no apparent Minnesota connections, showered tens of thousands of dollars on Minnesota Republican politicians and the Republican Party of Minnesota. Besides the $10,000 he gave to Bachmann and the $5,000 he gave to Patriot PAC, he made the following donations to other Minnesota Republicans and GOP entities:

• $21,500 to Republican Norm Coleman’s Senate re-election campaign from 2006-2008
• $7,000 to the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee in 2008-2009
• $10,400 to the Republican Party of Minnesota from 2008-2010
• $500 to former Rep. Marty Seifert’s Seifert for Governor Campaign in 2009
• $500 to Republican David J. Carlson’s Citizens for David Carlson committee in House District 67B in 2008.

In addition, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board is investigating a different—and potentially fraudulent—$500 campaign contribution to former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert in 2009 that’s linked to the USNVA.

Norm Coleman and the Republican Party of Minnesota have not responded to repeated inquiries about their relationship with “Bobby Thompson.”

I wrote an exclusive series of reports on the DumpBachmann blog earlier this year examining the political connections between Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and the man known as “Bobby Thompson,” as well as "Thompson’s" other connections to Minnesota Republicans and the state GOP. (See the links at the end of this article.)

In my series of articles, I also detailed the USNVA’s shady operations in Minnesota from 2004-2010. My reports were based initially on a year-long investigation of the USNVA by the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, which sparked legal inquiries into the group in at least eight states and by the IRS and Veterans Administration.

The group’s Minnesota operations closely paralleled the allegedly fraudulent operations uncovered in other states. Once the investigations into the USNVA began to gather steam nationwide, the Minnesota Chapter was mysteriously dissolved last May.

After my reports about “Thompson” and the USNVA appeared online, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office began looking into the group’s Minnesota operations.

Minnesota media, with the notable exception of the St. Paul Pioneer Press's Jason Hoppin, have largely ignored the story.

Meanwhile, Blanca Contreras, an alleged co-conspirator of “Thompson’s,” has been arrested and arraigned by Ohio authorities on charges of racketeering, money laundering and theft of more than $1 million. According to court documents, Contreras “personally withdrew $416,000 in cash from a single USNVA account” between October 2007 and June 2010.

Contreras is being held on $2 million bail.

While Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has been the most aggressive in pursuing the man known as “Bobby Thompson,” that could change. Cordray lost in the Nov, 2 election to Mike DeWine, who once received a $500 political contribution in a U.S. Senate campaign from “Bobby Thompson.”



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