The U.S. Marshals are asking the public’s help in identifying a Los Angeles Dodger fan seen on camera during a televised 2016 home game because they say he closely resembles a long-missing fugitive.
The call for the public’s help comes as the agency has stepped up the 23-year manhunt for John Ruffo, a swindler who fled in 1998 after being convicted in Virginia of a $353 million bank fraud. The ongoing manhunt for Ruffo is the subject of season 2 of the ABC News podcast, "Have You Seen This Man."
The man at the Dodger game may be a look-alike, or it may be Ruffo, who investigators believe has assumed a new identity. Either way, deputies on the case said they would like to know who it was.
“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?,” said Deputy Marshal Danielle Shimchick, the lead investigator on the Ruffo case.
Short and balding, the unassuming one-time computer salesman is now 66 years old. He is believed to have fled with approximately $13 million. There has not been a confirmed sighting of him since he stopped at an ATM in New York City in November 1998, the day he was supposed to report for a 17-year prison term. His car was found at New York’s JFK Airport.
Ruffo’s cousin, Carmine Pascale, of New Hampshire, was watching the Dodgers-Red Sox game on television on Aug. 5, 2016, when he said he spotted the familiar-looking man seated 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," said Pascale, a cousin who last saw Ruffo after his arrest in 1998. “And I immediately called the Marshals. I froze the frame, kept it right in front of me.”
He phoned the tip into the US Marshals, who had placed him on the agency’s 15 Most Wanted list.
Deputy Pat Valdenor, an L.A.- based Marshall, was assigned to followed up on the initial tip. He said it’s rare to get a tip accompanied with video evidence. He said the resemblance was strong.
“It does look like him. It could be him,” Valdenor said. “So that was my starting point. That was the lead that I got.”
Valdenor sought help from the Dodgers, who identified the seat in Dodger Stadium where the man had been seated: Section 1 Dugout Club, Row EE, Seat 10. He sought through baseball team’s help in identifying who bought the ticket.
Michelle Darringer, who heads risk management for the team remembers when the Marshals showed up in 2017 seeking help.
“Our receptionist called me saying, "There are U.S. Marshals here. They want to see you,” she recalled. “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.”
The Dodgers identified the ticket holder, but he had given the ticket away. The coveted seat behind home plate passed through so many hands, Valdenor spent weeks tracking the ticket but was ultimately unable to track it to the man who actually attended the game.
“It does get frustrating,” he said. “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.”
The lead investigators on the case now believe the public could now play a pivotal role in resolving whether it was, in fact, Ruffo, at that ball game. They are releasing the photo as the Dodgers head into Wednesday’s National League Wild Card game.
Pascale remains convinced the man wearing Dodger blue was Ruffo.
“Hiding in plain sight,” he said. “Brazen, confident. ‘They ain't gonna get me. Catch me if you can.’"
Darringer says she also believes it’s possible.
“It's the American pastime, why not?” she said. “If you're a ghost, you can go anywhere right?”
This report is part of Season 2 of the ABC News podcast, "Have You Seen This Man?," hosted by "The View's" Sunny Hostin. It follows the U.S. Marshals' ongoing mission to find John Ruffo, who engineered one of the most outlandish frauds in U.S. history, vanished in 1998 and has never been found. A four-part Hulu Original limited series on the global search for Ruffo is currently in production from ABC News Longform. MORE HERE