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Entries in Spy (4)

Monday
Oct012012

Feds: Notorious Alleged Con Man 'Bobby Thompson' Was Military Spy

Courtesy US Marshals(NEW YORK) -- Authorities revealed on Monday that they believe "Bobby Thompson," the man accused of using a fake veterans charity to swindle more than $100 million and to rub shoulders with top-level Republicans, is actually a former military intelligence officer named John Donald Cody.

Officials said Cody has been on an FBI watch list for 25 years after being accused of various frauds and was wanted for questioning related to an espionage investigation, as first reported by The Tampa Bay Times.

After apparently evading arrest for more than two decades, the man known as Thompson was charged in Ohio in 2010 on counts of identity theft, fraud and money laundering in connection with a bogus charity called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association that raised more than $100 million from unsuspecting donors around the country over seven years, as detailed in an ABC News investigation.

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 Ohio Rep. John Boehner, now Speaker of the House.  He attended events with the political figures, and posed proudly for now infamous photos with them.

Cody was arrested in May in connection with the charity scam, but refused to reveal his true identity, signing any papers with the letter "X."

Thompson led authorities on a cross-country manhunt that a U.S. Marshal called "one of our most challenging fugitive investigations to date."

But even after he was caught, the man proved to be a challenge for officials.  When taken to court days after his arrest, the man then-known as Thompson dared prosecutors to discover his identity.

When a judge asked him if he had the educational background to represent himself in court, he refused to answer.

"With all due respect to the court, the question you asked is an identity question," he said.  "The state has alleged identity theft as part of their complaint.  I believe, your honor, that the state has the burden of proof as to that."

It is a tale ripped from Hollywood.  U.S. Marshals who finally caught him believe he modeled his life after the famous imposter from the blockbuster Catch Me If You Can.  A copy of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie was among the few personal possessions he kept at a Portland, Ore., boarding house.

Though he lacks the suave demeanor and dashing looks of DiCaprio's character, no one involved in his capture would sell short his gifts as an alleged con man.  As the head of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, he oversaw a sophisticated charity operation with chapters in 41 states and was so confident in his ability to give the Navy Vets organization the appearance of a genuine charity, he hired Helen Mac Murray, a former prosecutor of charity fraud in the Ohio Attorney General's Office, to represent the group.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb222012

Mom Visits Former US Marine on Death Row in Iran

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The mother of the former U.S. Marine sentenced to death in Iran was allowed to visit her son, who she said looked gaunt and terrified on death row.

Amir Hekmati's mother, Benhaz, went to Tehran in late January, according to a report posted late Tuesday by The New York Times, three weeks after an Iranian court sentenced the 28-year-old Arizona-raised Iranian-American to death for, "cooperating for a hostile country...and spying for the CIA."

"While he is disappointed by the circumstances he finds himself in, he is hopeful that the truth will be known and he will be able to come home very soon," Hekmati's mother said in a statement, according to The Times. She described the Iranian officials she met as "hospitable" and "respectful," but said her son looked thinner and shocked by his ordeal.

Hekmati's family has publicly maintained his innocence, as first voiced by his father Ali to ABC News in an exclusive interview before the death sentence came down.

"My son is no spy. He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Ali said in December.  "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."

Hekmati, an Arizona-born Iranian-American who served the U.S. Marines as a rifleman from 2001 to 2005, was arrested while visiting his extended family, including two elderly grandmothers, in Tehran on Aug. 29, 2011, according to the family.  The family said they were urged by the Iranian government to keep quiet about his arrest with the promise of later release, but then in December, Hekmati was shown on Iranian television allegedly confessing to being an undercover agent of the Central Intelligence Agency on a mission to infiltrate the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

"It was their [the CIA's] plan to first burn some useful information, give it to them [the Iranians] and let Iran's Intelligence Ministry think that this is good material," Hekmati says calmly in the video.

Contrary to claims made during the initial Iranian broadcast, Hekmati's military record, provided to ABC News, shows that he never had intelligence training and the U.S. State Department said in early January Iran's claims that Hekmati "either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue."

"The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said then.

With the exception of the rare family statement criticizing Iran's previous lack of cooperation, Hekmati's kin, now represented by a high-powered attorney and a public relations firm, have been quiet in their dogged efforts to free the 28-year-old.

"By remaining discreet, you are not ruling out the option to be more public later," the family's lawyer in America, Pierre-Richard Prosper, told The Times. "A more visible campaign has not been ruled out."

Shortly before Benhaz's visit, Hekmati's lawyers in Tehran filed an appeal with courts there.

Eric Volz, a spokesperson for the family, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on this report.  A website set up by representatives of the family, FreeAmir.org, posted The New York Times' story in place of a new family statement. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun132011

American Law Student Arrested as 'Spy' in Egypt

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An American law student has been detained by Egyptian authorities on charges he is a "highly trained" spy working for Israel, Egyptian media reported Monday.

The U.S. State Department confirmed Sunday's arrest of 27-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen Ilan Chaim Grapel in a statement, but declined to comment concerning allegations voiced in Egyptian state media that he was working for the Israeli intelligence force, Mossad, "with the aim of harming [Egypt's] economic and political interests."

Grapel's mother, Irene Grapel, told ABC News the charges against him were "complete fabrications."

"I was dumbfounded," said Irene Grapel of when she learned her son had been detained. "I don't know where to put the next step."

Irene Grapel said her son had traveled to Egypt to work with a non-profit organization that helped other African refugees in Egypt. "He volunteered his time to go there," she said.

Both Irene Grapel and the State Department said Ilan Grapel had been visited by U.S. officials and appeared to be in good health in captivity. Irene Grapel said that speaking with her son Monday was "just great."

"My imagination was running wild last night, thinking of what they could be doing to him," she said. Before the popular revolt against former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, those detained by Egyptian police were sometimes subjected to harsh interrogation and torture.

Grapel, from New York, served in the Israeli military as a paratrooper and was injured in combat in 2006 in the Lebanon War. His mother said he is currently enrolled in Emory Law School and had received a small stipend from the school for his work in Egypt. School officials were not available to confirm Grapel was part of a program, but the year previous a man by the same name won a grant to work with the Supreme Court of Israel, according to the school's website.

Ilan Grapel's mother said it was likely many pictures Grapel took and posted on Facebook of the widespread protests in Egypt, coupled with his history in the Israeli military, that prompted his detention. A picture of Grapel smiling in his Israel Defense Forces uniform was featured in several Egyptian news reports.

Egypt's state news reported Grapel was to be detained fifteen days, but that time could be lengthened if Egyptian authorities wished to question him further. An official with the Israeli Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post early Monday they had yet to receive details of an arrested Israeli citizen.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec212010

Report: Homeland Security Assembling Massive Database on Americans

Photo Courtesy - U.S. Department of Homeland Security(WASHINGTON) -- Worries about homegrown terrorism have compelled the Department of Homeland Security to put together the largest database ever assembled of information collected on Americans, according to a story in the Washington Post.

Spurred by billions of dollars in grants to state governments since the 9/11 attacks, state and local authorities will collect data that the DHS says will help to enhance the counterterrorism efforts of the FBI.

Citing interviews and documents, the Post says that the database will include personal information on thousands of Americans, who may be judged to be acting suspiciously even if they’ve never been charged with breaking the law.

All together, more than 4,000 federal, state and local organizations are participating in this vast domestic spying network.  In addition, surveillance technologies first used in Iraq and Afghanistan are being employed to keep a closer watch on Americans.

Naturally, news of this elaborate spy effort has alarmed privacy advocates, who argue the government is going too far in efforts to protect the public from terrorist attacks.

Michael German, a former FBI agent at the American Civil Liberties Union, cautions, “It opens a door for all kinds of abuses.  How do we know there are enough controls?”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio