'Have You Seen This Man?'
Source: Hulu

John Ruffo, a Swindler Who Stole $350 Million, Went off the Radar in 1998

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Mar. 25 2022, Published 9:59 a.m. ET

A three-part true crime documentary series on Hulu looks at the case of John Ruffo, a con artist who pocketed an estimated $350 million before his conviction in the 1990s.

Have You Seen This Man? spotlights how, in 1998, Ruffo managed to run away after being sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison for bank fraud, money laundering, wire fraud, conspiracy, and others. For context: Ruffo was facing a 150-count indictment.

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John Ruffo stole an estimated $350 million thanks to a clever scheme.

A New York University graduate, Ruffo landed a job at the United Computer Systems LLC before launching his company, Consolidated Computer Services.

He and Edward J. Reiners, a then-employee of Philip Morris USA, launched the so-called Project Star in the early 1990s, successfully obtaining bank loans with the supposed purpose of developing smokeless cigarettes. Consolidated Computer Services was to provide computer hardware and consultation services for a project that never materialized.

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Instead, Ruffo decided to exploit the apparent loophole, pocketing a near-inconceivable amount of money. Ruffo spent some of it on himself. He reportedly gambled at least some of it away on the stock market.

Ruffo was arrested in the late 1990s. He was awarded 17.5 years in prison. His bail was set to $10 million. Defying the odds, Ruffo managed to convince various family members to pool together enough money to cover the bail.

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John Ruffo refused to self-report, choosing the life of a fugitive instead.

According to The Sun, Ruffo refused to self-report to prison.

Ruffo went missing in 1998. He took out $600 from an ATM in Queens, New York — which is where one of the last photographs of him was taken. He left his car in the long-term parking of the John F. Kennedy International Airport and rented a Ford Taurus to turn in the ankle monitor he had been wearing.

'Have You Seen This Man?'
Source: Hulu
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"I cried for a year, every day," John Ruffo's wife, Linda Lausten, once said.

Ruffo is thought to have been spotted on a handful of occasions since his disappearance in 1998. In August 2016, he appears to have been sighted at a Los Angeles Dodgers game.

He effectively abandoned his family, however. His wife, Linda Lausten, told NBC News that she cried a great deal after Ruffo's disappearance. "I cried for a year, every day," Linda said. "I had a rash on my face where the tears came down."

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"I want to face him," she added. "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?'"

Linda and the rest of Ruffo's family members came close to homelessness because they were forced to cover his debts. An estimated $13 million has never been recovered.

Ruffo's name has been on the U.S. Marshals 15 Most Wanted List since 1998.

Have You Seen This Man? is available on Hulu now.

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