Why 'Have You Seen This Man?' Producer Hopes John Ruffo Will Reach Out

Have You Seen This Man? charts the wild true story of white-collar criminal John Ruffo, who is wanted for defrauding the U.S. and foreign banks of $350 million and has been on the run for just over 23 years.

The ABC documentary series was released in the hope that by bringing the story back into the public eye it could lead to a result in the case, but it may also prompt the man himself to come forward, producer Megan Harding told Newsweek.

"I wondered, as we were making it I wondered if he actually had listened to the podcast, and wouldn't it be great if he did watch [the show]?" Harding said. "And wouldn't it be great if he sort of couldn't help himself but to reach out? Unlikely that, but that's what I sometimes dream about.

"Doesn't he want to just give a little hint, you know, he can be like, 'Come on, guys. I've been here for 24 years!'"

The former business executive was meant to self surrender in 1998 after being convicted of fraud, for which he was given a 17-year sentence. However, on November 9, 1998 Ruffo disappeared and was last seen in security camera footage from an ATM in Queens, New York.

How There's Hope 'Armchair Detectives' Can Help Catch John Ruffo

Since Ruffo vanished his story has all but fallen into obscurity, despite him being on the U.S. Marshals 15 Most Wanted Fugitives list, so the intention with the show was for "armchair detectives" to see if they recognize the man.

Harding told Newsweek: "I really like the idea that, you know, there are armchair detectives out there, I think that's become really popular of late and this is the perfect case for them.

"Because maybe there are sort of trails that we haven't found, or the marshals haven't uncovered as yet that are sort of laying dormant on someone's Facebook friends list or whatever.

"I feel like [the show] has an incredible potential to sort of spark an investigation from people's living rooms, and who knows what that will uncover? I hope that it does sort of shed some light on where he is."

On How 'Outrageous' and 'Implausible' the John Ruffo Case Seems

Have You Seen This Man? shares a number of theories as to Ruffo's whereabouts and how he managed to escape, citing Italian mob, Russian spies, and the FBI as potential accomplices in his disappearance.

"There was a desire that this story of John Ruffo is so crazy, so outrageous and so implausible that it would be great to sort of see what that would look like as a television documentary series," Harding said of making the series from a podcast.

"We kind of were very invested in making it feel a lot more like Catch Me If You Can than hard crime because most of the story, not all of it, you're constantly wondering how on earth this guy got away with what he did."

Of the many theories of how he managed to do just that, she added: "I mean, it's so hard to know. The thing about John Ruffo is that the man is a mystery, and he's obviously a pathological liar.

"But what you find out is that, remarkably, there are elements of truth in every lie that he spins. So, it could be all three [the mob, the Russian government or FBI involvement], you know, maybe it's all three."

On the Most Interesting People in the Documentary

Have You Seen This Man was originally an ABC podcast, and Harding spoke about the people she most enjoyed hearing from who knew Ruffo in real-life.

"Probably the top of that list would have to be Jack Mullaney, the FBI agent who arrested John Ruffo.

"He was so candid about his time, he's right he had arrested him, he was in custody, how [Ruffo] managed to actually get out of custody and then disappear is a fascinating story and it's a story that leaves many questions unanswered.

"But he was, you know, so wonderful to speak to and his storytelling was so great. But also, I do love Jeffrey Lichtman, just because he's so bold and audacious, and his history of representing various mobsters is endlessly fascinating."

Lichtman was Ruffo's attorney. He had previously represented former Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman for instance, but in the documentary, he admitted it was Ruffo's case he found the most unusual.

Harding said: "It makes you wonder why this story has sort of not been told more when you put it in that context.

"In many ways, Jeffrey Lichtman is right, he has represented all these quite extraordinary people for various reasons, but John Ruffo's case is the most unusual to him.

"But it's true and it's also unusual because it kind of disappeared for so long. It's been out of the spotlight when at its time like a fraud case of $353 million, there hadn't been a fraud case of that size before.

"In many ways he was like Bernie Madoff before Bernie Madoff. Although, you know, people could say that he was defrauding banks so it was not as cutthroat as Bernie [who created a Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of people out of billions of dollars].

"But, you know, it's quite possible to say that it was, you know, the largest white collar crime case in history. The fact that it just kind of fell into obscurities is also astounding to me."

Have You Seen This Man is out on Hulu now.

John Ruffo
Jeffrey Lichtman
Have You See This Man
"Have You Seen This Man?" explores the disappearance of John Ruffo after he absconded after defrauding U.S. and foreign banks of $350 million.