The feds are seeking the public’s help in identifying an LA Dodgers fan seen on camera during a 2016 game because he resembles the Brooklyn computer salesman who vanished in 1998 before he was to start serving a 17-year prison sentence for swindling banks out of $353 million.
The US Marshals have labeled John Ruffo one of their 15 most wanted fugitives — and his long manhunt is the subject of the second season of the ABC News podcast, “Have You Seen This Man.”
“The ones that are the worst are when you have no resolution. 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?” Deputy Marshal Danielle Shimchick, lead investigator in the cold case, told ABC News.
Ruffo, who would be 66 years old now, is believed to have fled with about $13 million and has not been seen since he stopped at an ATM in the Big Apple the day he was supposed to begin his long stint behind bars, according to the network.
His vehicle was discovered at JFK Airport and he disappeared into thin air.
Eighteen years later, the fugitive’s cousin, Carmine Pascale was watching the Dodgers-Red Sox game on TV when he said he spotted a familiar face four rows behind home plate.
“I’m watching and right behind home plate, they did a close up of the batter and there’s Johnny. And I said, ‘Holy Christ, there he is!’” the New Hampshire man told ABC News. “And I immediately called the Marshals. I froze the frame, kept it right in front of me.”
Deputy Marshal Pat Valdenor found the resemblance strong and turned to the Dodgers for help in trying to track down the fan.
“It does look like him. It could be him. So that was my starting point. That was the lead that I got,” said Valdenor, who contacted Dodgers risk-management chief Michelle Darringer.
“Our receptionist called me saying, ‘There are US Marshals here. They want to see you,’ Darringer told 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.”
It turned out that the original ticket holder had given the ticket away so Valdenor was unable to track down the man seen on TV.
“It does get frustrating. 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,” he said.
Ruffo’s former wife, Linda Lausten, told NBC News in a 2018 interview that she was still bitter after all these years.
“I cried for a year, every day. I had a rash on my face where the tears came down,” she said.
“I want to face him. I want to tell him how bad he hurt his mother and everybody else. I’d like to ask him: ‘When did you stop loving me? What happened? When did money become so important that you could do this to us?’” Lausten added.
Pascale is convinced the man he saw was his cousin.
“Hiding in plain sight. Brazen, confident. ‘They ain’t gonna get me. Catch me if you can,’” he told the network.
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