A convicted fraudster on the U.S. Marshals’ 15 Most Wanted list may have been seen at a televised 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers game and the agency is now seeking the public’s help in finding him.
A fan watching the game from home saw someone resembling John Ruffo, who has been on the run for 23 years after being convicted of a $353 million bank fraud in Virginia. He is believed to have fled with $13 million that was never recovered from the scheme.
Ruffo, now 66, a former computer salesman, was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison in what the U.S. Marshals said was ‘one of the largest bank fraud scams in American history.’
Ruffo’s own counsin Carmine Pascale, of New Hampshire, reported the possible Dodgers sighting to the U.S. Marshals, according to ABC News. He said he saw a familiar face sitting four rows behind home plate while the Dodgers played the Boston Red Sox on August 5, 2016.
US Marshalls seek help identifying a fan (left) at Los Angeles Dodgers game in 2016 that resembles fugitive John Ruffo (right)
A fan watching the Dodger’s from home reported seeing a man four rows behind home plate who resembled John Ruffo, a fugitive on the U.S. Marshals’ 15 Most Wanted list
The U.S. Marshals is asking the public for help finding John Ruffo, who has been on the run for 23 years
He was convicted of a $353 million bank fraud and sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison, but fled with $13 million
‘I’m watching and right behind home plate, they did a close up of the batter and there’s Johnny,’ he told ABC News. ‘And I said, “Holy Christ, there he is. And I immediately called the Marshals. I froze the frame, kept it right in front of me.’
Ruffo was given a $10 million bond and ordered to report to a federal prison in New Jersey in 1998, but he never showed up. He was last seen the same day in surveillance footage withdrawing money from an ATM in Queens and investigators found that he was driving a car that he parked at John F. Kennedy Airport.
There have been multiple reported sightings of Ruffo since then, but the ATM footage is the last one confirmed. Ruffo’s case will be examined in the upcoming second season of the ABC News podcast, “Have You Seen This Man.”
‘The ones that are the worst are when you have no resolution,’ Deputy Marshal Danielle Shimchick, the lead investigator on the Ruffo case, told ABC News. ‘That’s what bothers me, is that you just don’t know, is that him or not? The Dodgers footage, is that him? Is that Ruffo? Or is it not?’
Pascale said Ruffo was ‘hiding in plain sight.’ he said. ‘Brazen, confident. “They ain’t gonna get me. Catch me if you can.”’
Deputy Pat Valdenor, an L.A.-based Marshal, followed up on the initial tip and noted that it’s rare to get one that comes with video evidence. According to Valdenor, the resemblance was ‘strong.’
‘It does look like him. It could be him,’ he told ABC News. ‘So that was my starting point. That was the lead that I got.’
After reaching out to the Dodgers, Valdenor found that the man was sitting in Section 1 Dugout Club, Row EE, Seat 10.
Ruffo was ordered to report to a federal prison in New Jersey in 1998, but he never showed up and was last seen withdrawing money from an ATM in Queens
Investigators found that he was driving a car that he parked at John F. Kennedy Airport
Michelle Darringer, the team’s head of risk management, recalled the U.S. Marshals reaching out to her for help finding the ticket holder. ‘Our receptionist called me saying, “There are U.S. Marshals here. They want to see you,” ’ she said to ABC News. ‘I do remember them telling me that he was one of the most wanted persons. … It was a tip that this person had been at the game and they needed to try to confirm that.’
However, Valdenor hit a dead end after identifying who purchased the ticket, as the original holder sold it. For such a prime seat, the ticket could have gone through multiple people before it reached the man who sat there that day.
‘It does get frustrating,’ he told ABC News. ‘Especially every time you get a name, you think that this is gonna be it. Or at least one step closer. And in this particular case– every name I got, every name I checked off is one step further away.’
Investigators are now asking the public for help and are releasing a photo from the game as the Dodgers get set to play the National League Wild Card game on Wednesday.
‘The public is by far our greatest resource,” Nick Proffitt, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement to the public. ‘We are asking for your assistance to get this fugitive’s photo out there so we can bring him in together. He has been on our 15 Most Wanted list for 20 years, and it is time for John Ruffo to pay his debt to society.’
The US Marshals believe that Ruffo is going by a new identity and previously went by numerous aliases known to the US Marshals, including Joseph Ruffo, John Russo, Jack Nitz, Bruce Gregory, John Peters and Charles Sanders.
He is believed to have multiple international connections from his time as a New York businessman and spent time in both Aruba and Italy before he was convicted. Investigators said he could be anywhere in Europe, the Caribbean, Central or South America.
‘The world is a lot smaller today than when Ruffo fled,’ U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington said in a press release. ‘It only takes one tip for us to catch up with Ruffo. By now, he is likely well established and comfortable in whatever alias he is living under. He could be anywhere on the globe.’
Ruffo is five feet and five inches weighed about 170 pounds in 1998. He is described as a ‘master manipulator’ and a storyteller who ‘liked to stretch the truth,’ with a ‘desire to impress others.’ Investigators added that he is lactose intolerant, computer savvy and enjoys fine wines, gambling, and nice hotels.