Call Me Commander


Call Me Commander

A Former Intelligence Officer and the Journalists Who Uncovered His Scheme to Fleece America

Jeff Testerman and Daniel M. Freed

464 pages
10 photographs, 7 illustrations, index


February 2021


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

February 2021


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

February 2021


$34.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

When Lt. Commander Bobby Thompson surfaced in Tampa in 1998, it was as if he had fallen from the sky, providing no hint of his past life. Eleven years later, St. Petersburg Times investigative reporter Jeff Testerman visited the rundown duplex Thompson used as his home and the epicenter of his sixty-thousand-member charity, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. But something was amiss. Thompson’s charity’s addresses were just maildrops, his members nonexistent, and his past a black hole. Yet, somehow, the Commander had stood for photos with President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, and other political luminaries. The USNVA, it turned out, was a phony charity where Thompson used pricey telemarketers, savvy lawyers, and political allies to swindle tens of millions from well-meaning donors.

After Testerman’s story revealed that the nonprofit was a sham, the Commander went on the run. U.S. Marshals took up the hunt in 2011 and found themselves searching for an unnamed identity thief who they likened to a real-life Jason Bourne. When finally captured in 2012, Thompson was carrying multiple IDs and a key to a locker that held nearly $1 million in cash. But, who was he? Eventually, investigators discovered he was John Donald Cody, a Harvard Law School graduate and former U.S. Army intelligence officer who had been wanted since the 1980s on theft charges and for questioning in an espionage probe.

As Cody’s decades as a fugitive came to an end, he claimed his charity was run at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency. After reporting on the story for CNBC’s American Greed in 2014, Daniel M. Freed dug into Cody’s backstory—uncovering new information about his intelligence background and the evolution of his con.

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Author Bio

Jeff Testerman is an investigative reporter now retired from the St. Petersburg Times, where he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize five times. The newspaper’s investigation exposing the U.S. Navy Veterans charity scheme earned the Investigative Reporters and Editors top award for public service. Daniel M. Freed is a senior producer for CNBC’s white-collar crime documentary series American Greed. His television and print work has been aired or published by PBS, Current TV, Amazon Prime Video, and the Los Angeles Times.



"This book should prove a riveting read for anyone interested in con artists, law enforcement, fugitives, obsessive journalists, and delusional, prevaricating personalities, especially ones who may have been telling the truth all along."—Ann Todd, Journal of America's Military Past

"An exhilarating yet intricate tale of mind-boggling fraud. Readers will be rapt."Library Journal

"Despite its complex story and large cast of characters, the book is clearly written and crisply paced, with a structure that keeps it suspenseful all the way."—Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

“If you want to know how white-collar criminals get away with heinous crimes in broad daylight, read Call Me Commander, the shocking tale of a massive fraud that wasn’t discovered until some savvy journalists looked into the matter.”—Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst

“This is the saga of the phony ‘Commander Bobby Thompson,’ who paid esteemed lawyers and famous politicians to help him swindle tens of millions with a bogus veterans charity. It is also the inside story of tenacious reporters who brought down a colossal con and revealed the stunning true identity of the character behind it. The narrative sends a powerful message: now, more than ever, journalists are needed to help distinguish between what is real and what is fake in American life.”—Dan Casey, columnist for the Roanoke Times

“A wild ride and timely reminder that grifters love to prey on patriotism.”—Spencer Ackerman, senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast

Call Me Commander is a riveting account of one of the most twisted con men ever to hustle a buck in Florida, and nobody can tell this tale better than veteran investigative reporter Jeff Testerman, who first exposed the scam, and broadcast journalist Daniel Freed, who discovered the conman's secrets after his capture.”—Craig Pittman, author of the New York Times bestseller Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country

Call Me Commander shows how [Bobby Thompson’s] scam was constructed and how it unraveled when reporters began investigating. It might also be a cautionary tale about future cons when there are no more local journalists to investigate these scams.”—Frank Abagnale, subject of the book and movie, Catch Me If You Can

Call Me Commander is a classic piece of investigative journalism. It’s the type of work we grew up admiring, but, regrettably—because of declining newspaper revenues—is fading into our past.”—Robert E. O’Neill, managing director of Freeh Group International Solutions and former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida

Table of Contents

1. Secrets behind a Duplex Door
2. Real Substance
3. Surviving the Flood
4. Pulling on a Thread
5. The Paper’s Chase
6. When Pigs Fly
7. The Perfect Storm
8. Under the Radar
9. Homeless at the Helmsley
10. Under the Lightbulb
11. Jeopardy
12. To the Grave?
13. Trip to the Tribal Lands
14. The Independent
15. A Good Harbor
16. Celia’s Home for Wayward Boys
17. The Slowest Follow
18. Unit 646
19. Mr. X
20. Crème de la Crème
21. Fish Out of Water
22. Stealing Away
23. For My Country
24. Veterans Day
25. Fall on the Guillotine
26. The Dark Period
27. Tunneling to Freedom

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