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John Ruffo, elusive NYC swindler, still on the run after 20 years

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By means of Wealthy Schapiro

When John Ruffo confirmed up at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn on Nov. nine, 1998, he already had a singular resume.

NYU graduate. Pc skilled. Convicted $350 million con guy.

Ruffo arrived on the courthouse to show over the digital tracking bracelet he have been ordered to put on. His subsequent forestall used to be meant to be a federal jail in New Jersey to start out a 17-year sentence.

However Ruffo by no means grew to become up on the jail. By means of that night, he had won every other identify: federal fugitive.

Ruffo left a path of wreckage in his wake — former trade companions burnt up, members of the family, together with his spouse and mom, pressured out of the houses they submit for his bond.

Two decades later, Ruffo’s whereabouts stay unknown.

U.S. Marshals are nonetheless trying to find him. His former spouse continues to be hurting—and nonetheless sour.

“I cried for a yr, each day,” Linda Lausten advised NBC Information. “I had a rash on my face the place the tears got here down.”

Lausten’s tears have since been changed by means of haunting questions.

“I need to face him,” Lausten mentioned. “I need to inform him how unhealthy he harm his mom and everyone else. I’d like to invite him: ‘When did you forestall loving me? What came about? When did cash turn into so necessary that you want to do that to us?’”

John Ruffo, also with his former wife Linda lausten.
John Ruffo, additionally along with his former spouse Linda Lausten.Courtesy Linda Lausten

The person who helped Ruffo pull off the scheme sees his flight from justice in a special mild.

Edward Reiners spent just about 9 years in jail for his or her audacious rip-off involving a pretend Philip Morris analysis challenge on smokeless cigarettes.

“He’s long past. God bless him,” Reiners advised NBC Information. “He beat the gadget.”

Even twenty years later, the colossal fraud pulled off by means of Reiners and Ruffo turns out ripped from a Hollywood script.

The tale starts in 1993 when Ruffo used to be operating a small corporate primarily based in midtown Long island that offered and serviced IBM computer systems. Reiners used to be a former Philip Morris worker who had accomplished trade with Ruffo as a part of his task acquiring computer systems for the tobacco large.

The pair have been satisfied they might make a boatload enjoying the inventory marketplace, in keeping with Reiners. There used to be one downside: they weren’t sitting on a pile of money.

Banks proved a herbal goal. If they might have the option to protected huge loans, they have been assured that they might use the cash to make a mint in shares, pay off the banks and stay the leftover money.

All they wanted used to be a method to persuade monetary establishments to mortgage them tens of millions of bucks.

Over lunch at an Italian eating place in Long island, the plan took form.

They might inform banks they have been main a world analysis program on tobacco possible choices for Phillip Morris that required the acquisition of masses of computer systems and the hiring of team of workers at 5 offshore places.

Ruffo and Reiners knew that the scheme would best paintings if they might by some means save you the banks from contacting Phillip Morris without delay.

In order that they made up our minds to invoice it as an ultra-secret program recognized best to a couple of inside the corporate. They even got here up with a clandestine-sounding code title – Undertaking Big name.

When Reiners pitched executives at their first goal, Signet Financial institution, he required them to signal a confidentiality settlement that barred them from discussing the challenge with somebody else, even Phillip Morris officers.

Running in Reiners’ prefer used to be the truth that he had up to now accomplished trade with Signet when he used to be nonetheless hired by means of the tobacco corporate.

The Signet executives expressed pastime however there used to be a catch. To be able to entire the deal, the financial institution required a so-called incumbency certificates from Phillip Morris giving Reiners the authority to habits trade at the company’s behalf.

The record needed to come with an organization seal and govt sign-off.

Getting a company stamp used to be no downside. Reiners and Ruffo discovered a spot in Decrease Long island that did the task no questions requested.

However how would they get a signature from an organization govt?

The solution got here to them whilst they have been taking note of the radio in a taxi because the station introduced it used to be giving a prize to a definite quantity caller.

Posing as an worker of a radio station, the lads phoned a Philip Morris govt and advised her she had received a loose dinner at a dear Long island eating place.

The pair had decided on the little-known worker, an assistant company secretary named Diane McAdams, from an inventory of corporate officials.

McAdams purchased it. She even agreed to signal a unencumber shape and ship it again to them.

With McAdams’ signature, Ruffo and Reiners now had their holy grail.

Quickly after the substitute certificates used to be despatched to a Signet Financial institution mortgage officer, the twine switch hit Ruffo’s account – $25 million.

The mortgage marked the breaking of the dam. Quickly cash used to be flowing in.

In time, seven international and home banks had loaned Ruffo and Reiners greater than $350 million.

And so they did so with out ever seeing a unmarried pc.

John Ruffo
John Ruffo used to be final observed in surveillance pictures from an ATM in Queens, New York, on Nov. nine, 1998.U.S. Marshals Carrier

In an interview with NBC Information final week, Reiners referenced a line that he had brought to 60 Mins correspondent Steve Kroft in 1999: “I had a more difficult time getting a house loan than I did getting those loans.”

Reiners poured the cash into shares but additionally right into a Trump Tower penthouse rental. It used to be unclear the place Ruffo used to be parking his percentage of the proceeds. “We have been residing in a easy little hooked up space in Queens,” Ruffo’s ex-wife mentioned this week. “He used to be now not residing a millionaire’s way of life.”

The scheme started to resolve in March 1996 when an officer for a Jap financial institution grew suspicious of the certificates that Reiners had produced.

The officer faxed a replica of the certificates to McAdams. In keeping with court docket data, she spoke back that very same day, announcing the record used to be phony and Reiners isn’t an authentic at Philip Morris.

The banks contacted Reiners in quest of solutions. He proposed a gathering with the monetary executives and McAdams herself.

Ruffo and Reiners knew they have been in a pinch. The one means out of it used to be to search out any individual to pose as Diane McAdams.

They settled on one in all Ruffo’s workers, a single-mother from New Jersey named Jody Bachiman.

Ruffo and Reiners advised Bachiman they have been fascinated by a secret executive challenge with Phillip Morris.

In an interview with NBC Information, Bachiman mentioned she nonetheless recollects getting the decision from Ruffo telling her concerning the assembly with the financial institution executives.

“It used to be March 17, 1996, a Sunday, St. Patty’s day,” Bachiman mentioned. “He mentioned the federal government challenge with Philip Morris is at risk and you want to lend a hand us.”

Reiners and Bachiman met with the financial institution officials at Philip Morris’ places of work in Rye Brook, N.Y.

The assembly didn’t cross as deliberate. Reiners and Bachiman left the construction in handcuffs after the FBI swooped in.

By the point Ruffo used to be arrested in March 1997, the costs towards Bachiman have been dropped. Reiners used to be sentenced to 16 years and 10 months in jail after pleading in charge to at least one depend of financial institution fraud and one depend of cash laundering.

Ruffo used to be indicted on 160 counts of financial institution fraud and cash laundering. His bond used to be set at $10 million.

Ruffo satisfied six units of members of the family to supply up their houses as collateral.

Along with his trial simply days away, Ruffo pleaded in charge in April 1998. Six months later, he used to be sentenced to 17 ½ years in jail.

As Ruffo’s lawyer recollects it, officials put the convicted fraudster in handcuffs and ready to guide him out of the court in Richmond, Va.

“I mentioned, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, there’s a deal in position that will permit my consumer to self-surrender,” attorney Jeffrey Lichtman recalled.

“The judged appeared on the prosecutor incredulously and mentioned, ‘Did you conform to that?”

The prosecutor mentioned sure, in keeping with Lichtman, and “they took off him and we were given on a airplane to New York.”

Ruffo’s jail sentence used to be slated to start out in 5 weeks. His former spouse mentioned she spotted not anything bizarre all over that duration.

At the morning of Nov. nine, 1998, Ruffo dropped off his spouse at a teach station. It used to be the final time she ever noticed him.

Earlier than returning house that night, she gained a telephone name from the FBI. ‘They have been screaming at me, ‘The place is John Ruffo?’” Rausten recalled. “The blood rushed down my frame. My face grew to become to ice.”

She returned house to discover a suicide notice that neither she nor the FBI believed advised the true tale.

Ruffo used to be final stuck on digicam that afternoon chickening out cash from an ATM system in Queens.

After he vanished, the federal government put a full-court press on his members of the family and previous colleagues in quest of clues to his whereabouts. The relations who submit their houses, maximum of whom have been of their 70s and 80s, have been pressured to the streets.

Helen Fahey, the previous U.S. Legal professional for the Jap District of Virginia, which prosecuted the case, mentioned she didn’t recall the main points of Ruffo’s plea deal.

However she nonetheless remembered the scope and absurdity of his rip-off.

“Leaving apart his disappearance, the tale used to be implausible,” Fahey mentioned. “He did this massive, massive fraud with this wild scheme. Why a wide variety of folks didn’t select up on it, you gotta be kidding me. The place have been the accountants? The place used to be actually somebody with a mind?”

Referring to Ruffo’s bail, Fahey mentioned: “Clearly, on reflection, the federal government must have screamed bloody homicide that it must were revoked.”

On the time, Jim Comey, the previous FBI director, used to be the managing assistant U.S. Legal professional in control of the Jap District of Virginia’s Richmond department. Comey, who used to be indirectly concerned within the case, declined remark.

Monitoring down Ruffo is now the duty of Chris Leuer and his fellow deputies on the U.S. Marshals Place of work. Since 2000, Ruffo’s pudgy face has graced the U.S. Marshals’ checklist of the 15 “maximum sought after” fugitives.

“He’s now not our conventional fugitive,” mentioned Leuer. “You have a look at our most sensible 15 maximum sought after, they’re murderers and kid predators. He’s somewhat other…I’d describe him as a extremely smart particular person who used to be residing a a success existence however then were given grasping.”

U.S. Marshals Carrier

Leuer mentioned his workplace nonetheless receives reported sightings of Ruffo frequently. If truth be told, only some weeks in the past any individual reported seeing Ruffo at a shop within the state of Washington.

The marshals showed it wasn’t him.

Leuer mentioned Ruffo’s everyman look makes monitoring him down much more tough.

“He’s a brief, heavy-set white man,” Leuer mentioned. “You’ll stroll down the road in any busy town in The usa and almost definitely to find two or 3 individuals who appear to be John Ruffo.”

Leuer mentioned Ruffo has one thing else going for him as neatly: cash. Rather a lot and a variety of cash.

Ruffo is thought to have stashed away a minimum of $eight million.

“There have been tens of millions unaccounted for,” Leuer mentioned. “That tells me he used to be used to be considering forward.”

Ruffo’s attorney doubts he’ll ever be captured. “I all the time assume if somebody is keen to stick hidden, they are able to,” Lichtman mentioned. “It’s a must to bring to an end everyone to your existence and that’s what he did.”

For Ruffo’s ex-wife, the passage of time has eased her ache. She has since remarried. However she nonetheless has transparent reminiscences of the duration when she and 5 different members of the family have been pressured to depart their houses inside two weeks of his disappearance.

“My deficient better half’s mother left the whole thing in her space as a result of she used to be so beaten,” Linda Lausten mentioned. “He used to be now not a person as a result of finally, he punished his mom, my mom, his aunts and uncles. And the federal government gave no mercy.”

Lausten mentioned she nonetheless struggles to reconcile the honorable, beneficiant and sensible guy she married with the tough and conniving fraudster who deserted his closest relations.

“Everybody in our circle of relatives submit their houses. That’s how a lot we believed in him,” Lausten mentioned, her voice cracking.

“He used to be the type of one that would give a role alternative to probably the most unwanted particular person as a result of they in point of fact wanted a role. He would actually give cash out of his pocket to any individual in the street who wanted it. That’s why it’s so exhausting to imagine that he changed into this monster.”

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