The U.S. Marshals have located and fingerprinted the Los Angeles Dodgers fan seen on camera during a televised 2016 home game who they said closely resembled a long-missing and most wanted fugitive. But they have determined he is not their man.
The identification came just 48 hours after the U.S. Marshals went public with a photograph of the Dodger fan, eager to determine if he was John Ruffo, a swindler convicted of a $353 million bank fraud, who has been on the run for more than 23 years. The manhunt for Ruffo is the subject of season 2 of the ABC News podcast, "Have You Seen This Man."
A relative of the Dodgers fan alerted the U.S. Marshals Tuesday night that the man seated five rows behind home plate during the 2016 game was, in fact, a different person altogether. He has requested privacy so ABC News is not naming him.
To be certain the man was not Ruffo, the Marshals conducted a swift background investigation and on Thursday traveled to his home to verify fingerprints. The read out proved it – they had the wrong guy.
The discovery put an end to one of the most vexing aspects of the manhunt – a lead that for more than five years remained unresolved for the U.S. Marshals. It meant the investigators would have to turn their attention to other leads in the decades-long search for Ruffo.
“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.
The look-alike baseball fan from the L.A. suburbs had put his hands on some terrific seats, placing him just off center frame every time the television feed of the game focused on the batter. It was in that prime location that he caught the eye of John Ruffo’s cousin, Carmine Pascale, of New Hampshire.
Pascale 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 Dodgers 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.
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 was Valdenor who traveled to a Los Angeles suburb Thursday to fingerprint the man who had attended the game.
“You can clearly see the difference between the fingerprints,” Valdenor said. “Even without the fingerprints, there was the birth certificate, and I had his whole family in front of me -- three generations. I could see it wasn’t Ruffo.”
Even though the manhunt for Ruffo goes forward, he could be satisfied that he had not missed a chance to catch Ruffo.
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