State and federal authorities have a new ally in their hunt for a fugitive who allegedly created a fake charity aimed at cashing in on the public's support for military veterans, and then vanished with millions of dollars in donations.
The mustachioed man who authorities say assumed the stolen identity Bobby Thompson remains at large but Ohio officials secured a guilty plea last week from his female partner, 39-year-old Blanca Contreras. And in exchange for a promise not to prosecute her daughters, state officials told ABC News, Contreras promised to cooperate with their efforts to track him down.
"The goal is still to bring the gentleman known as Bobby Thompson to justice," said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's office.
Authorities say that using his fake name, Thompson set up a charity called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association and reported raising more than $100 million on its tax forms. To help enhance the charity's credibility, Thompson allegedly used some of the money to make large campaign contributions to prominent politicians, most of them Republicans including President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, and House Speaker John Boehner. He attended events with the political figures, and posed for now infamous photos with them.
In 2009, the St. Petersburg Times newspaper began raising questions about the veterans charity – finding that none of the members of its board could be located, and its addresses seemed only to lead to post office boxes. Most of the money the charity had purported to raise was unaccounted for, and as authorities began following up on the reports, Thompson disappeared.
Last fall, Florida lawmaker Darryl Rouson told ABC News he had initially helped the man he thought was Bobby Thompson. "He seemed to be a knowledgeable man about politics and community affairs," Rouson said. "He was engaging, jovial. I had no reason to suspect he was anything other than who he said he was."
According to Ohio authorities, "Thompson" was last seen in a New York City hotel. They said he had stolen the identity of a real man named Bobby Thompson from Washington state. He also had an identity card from the state of Indiana issued under the name of a man from New Mexico named Ronnie Brittain, they added. The real Ronnie Brittain is the head of a veterans group in New Mexico.
Tierney told ABC News that Contreras is scheduled to be sentenced on August 3, and faces up to 25 years in prison for her conviction on charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft, money laundering, and tampering with records.
While investigators at the Ohio Attorney General's Office are pleased with the conviction, they told the St. Petersburg Times they are not ready to celebrate.
"Am I high-fiving people right now? No," Special Agent Arvin Clar told the newspaper after Contreras appeared in an Ohio courtroom and pleaded guilty. "I want to find Bobby Thompson."