CLEVELAND - A Tampa woman faces up to 25 years in prison for her role in running a veterans charity prosecutors say is a sham.
Blanca Contreras pleaded guilty to four felony charges, including money laundering, aggravated theft, tampering with records and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, in a Cuyahoga County courtroom Wednesday morning.
Brad Tammaro, the assistant Ohio attorney general who prosecuted the case, said Contreras signed documents saying she was the acting treasurer of the U.S Navy Veterans Association.
Tammaro said the veterans charity used telemarketers to solicit million of dollars in donations from Americans in 41 states, including Ohio, but did donate deliver the funds to Navy veterans.
Tammara said Contreras cashed $472,373 worth of checks from money donated by Ohio residents between October 2007 and July 2010.
"Her principle role was as a conduit for the money," said Tammaro.
Prosecutors are still searching for Contreras' boss, a man known as Bobby Thompson.
Tammaro said he was the mastermind of the bogus charity.
He filed tax returns that claimed more than $20 million a year.
Tammaro said Thompson has not been seen since June 2010.
The millions of dollars of donation money has also disappeared.
"We do not know where he is right now. If we did know, he would be standing in this courtroom," said Tammaro.
According to our Scripps Howard partners at WCPO in Cincinnati, the Attorney General’s office says Thompson stole that name from a resident of Washington state but also used the name of an Indiana man, Ronnie D. Brittain, for a decade.
WCPO said Thompson diverted the donations to his own political contributions across the nation, including current attorney general Mike Dewine.
"I can't tell you enough how awful this is for organizations like ours," said Sharon Mosher.
Mosher heads the Buckeye Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America.
She said her charity has been swindled by a telemarketer.
Mosher also said sham charities make it hard for real organizations to raise money.
"These folks have done terrible things," she said.
Prosecutors say there is a nationwide manhunt underway for the man known as Bobby Thompson.
As part of her plea deal, Blanca Contreras is expected to cooperate with prosecutors.
However, Tammaro said he does not believe Contreras knowns Thompson's current location because she has been in jail for several months.
Contreras will be sentenced August 3 in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
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