Skip to main content

tv   2020  ABC  April 8, 2017 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

10:00 pm
and now abc's "20/20." >> reporter: bend, oregon. on a misty may morning, federal agents have a premonition. two psychics they've been tracking for months are getting ready to run. >> their bags were packed at the door. >> reporter: it's time to move in. >> did you have any inkling they were about to get busted? >> none. >> reporter: the location -- this small business. a mother-daughter duo running a psychic shop. ten bucks a hand. but in reality they're been running a high-stakes con job, for a decade. >> one million dollars turned into $2 million into $4 million >> i've never worked anything
10:01 pm
like this in my career and i don't expect to again. >> reporter: their target doesn't even realize he's been had. doesn't even realize he's bought them fancy cars, luxury homes, and five-star vacations. >> he was led to believe a fantasy. >> reporter: a fantasy that ended up fleecing him, costing him everything he had. law enforcement calls it "the sweetheart swindle." a sweet deal for the swindlers. >> ciao! >> it was like they won the powerball. >> reporter: tonight -- we'll take you inside this all-time classic con. >> this is one of the craziest cases i've ever seen. >> reporter: a long, strange trip stretching from the pacific northwest to las vegas and the capitals of europe. a game of deceit and double dealing starring a mild-mannered millionaire who went looking for love in all the wrong places. can you just spare us a minute? >> no, i've been told i'm not to talk. >> reporter: a criminal genius with a grade school education. a mysterious stranger with a deep dark secret. this wig, this watch, and a baby named giorgio armani. >> hi! >> giorgio armani, it is an unusual name.
10:02 pm
it tells you about what they had on their mind, what was important to them when that child was born. >> crazy. >> reporter: get comfortable, it's going to be a wild ride. >> oh yeah, the casino royale baby! >> good evening. i'm elizabeth vargas. >> and i'm david muir. a fortune instead of a future. a growing scam called sweetheart scam. >> it's being used on the elderly these days. will they be seeing prison bars in their future. once again, here's david wright. >> reporter: imagine you are all alone in the world, living deep in the woods. no spouse. no children. no close friends to confide in. nobody. but maybe an elderly parent, who's always been hard on you.
10:03 pm
>> and his father ignored him. he didn't put much stock in him. he wasn't good enough. didn't measure up. >> reporter: that was the life of ralph raines jr., a lonely bachelor from gaston, oregon -- population 660. he grew up on the family tree farm, an only child. when it came to people, ralph raines was lost in the woods. how would you describe him? >> he's different. >> socially inept and gullible. >> that was ralph. he -- there's no ability to understand the normal social dynamics. >> reporter: marlene olson has known the raines family since many of these trees were seedlings. he's more comfortable with trees than people? >> yes, that's actually a very good way to put it. >> this tree is about 5 years old to 6 years old. >> reporter: the trees were not only his friends. they were his fortune too. the raines tree farm, planted by
10:04 pm
his father, ralph senior. douglas firs destined to be turned into telephone poles, each mature tree worth about $1,000. the raines family had 1200 acres of them, a lush, sustainable cash machine. >> what you're seeing out here is a lot of hard work. hard, dirty work. >> a tree farm is intended to go on for many generations. it's a habitat. it's an investment for a lifetime. many lifetimes. >> this here is a wild strawberry plant. >> reporter: clearly, ralph raines was more into greenery than greenbacks. it's not even clear he knew how rich he was. but he wasn't totally down to earth. >> i am interested in the paranormal. >> reporter: he loved psychics. so when a psychic named rachel lee opened a new palm reading shop in bend, ralph paid her a visit. >> it was at that point they began to develop a relationship. >> reporter: donna brecker maddux is a federal prosecutor. she says that meeting would change ralph's life.
10:05 pm
did she have any clue at that point how rich this guy was? >> he began to share with rachel his best-kept secrets, and they also related to his father's wealth and to the work on the tree farm. >> reporter: so, once he starts to unburden himself, she presumably starts to realize this is somebody -- this is the powerball ticket. >> that's the hook, yeah. >> reporter: rachel also reveals a lot about herself to ralph, says she too is alone in the world. she's lost her parents, and had cared for her husband as he died of cancer. >> and that creates a sense of empathy. >> reporter: bob nygaard is a private investigator who has solved sweetheart swindle cases all over the world. >> they learned all about him, and then they specifically took what he told them to use it against him. they preyed upon him. >> reporter: rachel convinces ralph that her psychic abilities can help him get want he craves most -- companionship, a family. and now the trap is set.
10:06 pm
>> the number one route to fraud is to become your best friend. "i'm the only one that's going to listen to you. i'm the only one that's going to talk to you, so pretty soon i'm the only one you're going to trust. and anything i tell you, you will believe." >> reporter: rachel has the patience of a tree. she spends the next two years grooming her mark, becoming his closest friend and confidante. >> when the sweetheart swindler comes into their life, they're giving them the attention that they've been sorely missing. >> reporter: soon, he's buying her gifts -- and writing her checks. along the way, she introduces ralph to somebody new -- a guy named blancey. blancey, how does he come into the picture? >> blancey lee was rachel lee's, on-again, off-again boyfriend. blancey held himself out as someone who could do home construction projects. and did a few home construction projects. >> reporter: he fixed the deck, right? >> he fixed the deck. >> reporter: blancey and rachel
10:07 pm
come from california, and until now, appear to be living a middle-class life off of rachel's earnings as a psychic. but two years into the con, things really begin to escalate. rachel, who has established herself as an authority on bookkeeping and personal finance, convinces ralph to purchase this 4,600 square foot house, a four-bedroom tudor in an exclusive suburb of portland. price tag -- $915,000. a home he will never live in. what was the reason that they bought this home? >> rachel lee at the time led ralph raines jr. to believe that if he purchased this home it would be a good investment for him in the long run. she also let him know that it could be a place for her and some of her family members to live while they waited to sell it. >> reporter: so, while ralph and his aging father stay in the aging properties on the tree farm, rachel moves into the sparkling new home with her
10:08 pm
kids. among them, her devoted daughter porsha. >> and she would have done anything to stay in her mother's good graces. >> reporter: just how much she'd be willing to do will be apparent later. then, a turning point -- ralph senior suffers a debilitating stroke. from now on, he'll need 24-hour care. rachel seizes the moment, and volunteers to take care of him. >> she weaseled her way into the residence as a caretaker. but she did a lot more taking than she did caring. >> reporter: by now, ralph junior was in the habit of saying yes to anything rachel asked for. but this particular decision will cost him dearly. >> she evidently had access to the books and conversation and the whole bit. >> reporter: in ralph's mind, life is as good as it's ever been. his father has a caretaker. the house has a handyman. and he has a friend, someone who
10:09 pm
can help him shoulder the burden of the family business, someone in whom he can confide all his secrets. the only thing missing -- the thing that he wants most of all -- is a family, a wife and child. and that's just what rachel intends to give him. >> happy birthday. >> she created a fake world for him, designed to exactly meet all the desires and wishes that he ever wanted to have. >> reporter: in exchange, she'll get to live the life she always dreamed of. >> we'll be in florence tomorrow. it was beautiful. blancey enjoyed it. ciao. >> reporter: stay with us.
10:10 pm
10:11 pm
10:12 pm
10:13 pm
>> announcer: "20/20" saturday continues with the sweetheart swindle. >> reporter: the plot thickens at portland international airport. one bright october day in 2007, ralph raines is on his way home from a timber convention. he calls rachel lee, his bookkeeper and his father's caretaker for a ride home. but, secretly, she has other plans to take him for a ride. her devious plot, about to deepen in a big way. >> he was instructed by rachel lee to sit outside on one of the benches. >> reporter: ralph likes blondes with fair skin. rachel knows that from all of their private conversations. so the psychic is about to play matchmaker. she found his dream girl. >> she did.
10:14 pm
she created it. >> reporter: an attractive stranger sidles up to the bench. a blonde with a british accent who introduces herself as mary marks. >> she approached him and asked him if his name was ralph. he said yes and was somewhat surprised by that. and from there they engaged in a conversation. >> reporter: on that airport bench, she tells ralph she has psychic powers too. she offers to give him a reading. armed with a few details secretly provided by rachel, the reading is spot-on. ralph raines jr. is hooked. mary marks tells ralph the occult is just her hobby. she's a bookkeeper by trade. >> she explained to him that she was actually a british citizen that was here in this country and but she could potentially help him with the finances for his business. >> reporter: sure enough, she's soon up at the tree farm, helping rachel out with the books. old ralph thinks the two women, who he thinks have never met before, will act as a checks and balances system. one keeping an eye on the other.
10:15 pm
instead, ralph's now got two financial femme fatales on the books. >> they were taking over the management and the bookkeeping. >> you give up everything and you let somebody else control you. >> reporter: why the british accent? mary marks tells ralph she needs a green card. and eventually he agrees to marry her, all thanks to rachel's matchmaking. >> rachel lee had all the information she needed to craft the exact fake lifestyle that this victim desired more than anything else and that included a fake life and eventually a fake child. >> reporter: the couple doesn't actually live together. the excuse being that mary marks needs to spend most of her time in california because of her full-time job. did they have a romantic relationship? >> we have no reason to believe that they did have a romantic relationship. >> reporter: they never consummate the marriage. but that doesn't stop mary marks from convincing ralph to father a child with her through artificial insemination. she convinces ralph she's pregnant with his son.
10:16 pm
and even wears a fake baby bump. she goes back to california to give birth and returns, months later, presenting him with a real baby. ralph is led to believe that's his son. the baby, growing up to believe he's daddy. >> dada. >> he misses you and he wants you to know it. and he wants to talk to you. talk to mom. >> reporter: what does that video say to you? >> that video says to me that he truly believed that this was his son and that he loved and missed his wife. >> reporter: and here's the kicker. the little boy, supposedly the son of this oregon tree farmer, is named giorgio armani. crazy. well, it's a very rodeo drive name i suppose. >> it tells you about what they had on their mind, what was important to them. >> giorgio and i sure miss you. yeah. >> reporter: ralph revels in his newfound romance and the joys of family life.
10:17 pm
♪ happy birthday to you >> do it one more time, ralph. >> reporter: these images tell a poignant story. a happy, growing family, posing for holiday pictures, smiling on trips to the pumpkin patches, sharing tender moments between father and beloved son. >> giorgio and i are sending you this picture so you can kind of see how he's doing. >> reporter: all of it a mirage. meanwhile, rachel is free to indulge her first love -- money -- along with her boyfriend blancey, who's been posing as ralph's handyman. three and a half years into the con she receives the key to the treasure chest. >> the victim turned over control of all of his financial accounts to rachel lee. >> reporter: power of attorney papers are drawn up, giving rachel the power to manage every aspect of ralph junior's life and finances. >> once they get the power of attorney, that then enables them to move into the financial picture and start to liquidate all the assets and fleece the victim out of their life
10:18 pm
savings. >> reporter: rachel sells off stocks from the raines portfolio and deposits the money in the corporate account. she's essentially in charge of paying herself for her shoddy role as senior's caretaker and often she overpays herself. >> there are individuals who allege that rachel lee did not provide sufficient care to senior, that they found at the tree farm in a state of neglect on multiple occasions. >> and my son went over to visit him one day and they wouldn't let him in the house. >> they didn't want anybody to have contact with either of the raineses. >> one of the hallmarks of a sweetheart swindle is to isolate the victim from all friends and family and business associates and in this case that's what they did. >> reporter: at one point, the suffering senior is moved into the exclusive portland home. there he suffers one final indignity. >> the father is sleeping in the hallway. >> he was never provided his own bedroom. rachel lee, blancey lee, and their extended family members
10:19 pm
occupied all of the bedrooms in this house. >> reporter: this photo shows how helpless ralph senior has become. >> it was shocking to us as part of the investigation, to find that out. >> reporter: meanwhile rachel is diverting funds by sending big checks to her family members, to blancey lee, and to her financial tag-team partner mary marks. >> once she got her, you know, hands on those checks, it was, they were home free. >> reporter: lee's family members are also walking around with raines' corporate credit cards paying for anything and everything. clothing, dining and most of all travel. rachel and blancey start living the lifestyles of the rich and famous, jetting off on a european vacation. they fly first class to paris where they enjoy a romantic dinner for two, in the city's most famous landmark. blancey capturing the highlights of the trip on video. >> we're here in paris on our anniversary at the eiffel tower about to have dinner, five-star restaurant. >> reporter: there are five-star
10:20 pm
vacations to monaco. >> we're here in monte carlo still enjoying the sightseeing. >> reporter: their hotel in monte carlo? $1,800 a night. and like characters in a james bond movie, rachel and blancey gamble the night away dressed in black tie at the legendary casino royale. >> casino royale, baby. honestly there's so much class in there, i never seen something so beautiful in my life. >> reporter: the pair of them salivate over all the luxury automobiles around them. >> there's my car, there's my car. there's the car i'm going to get. >> reporter: after monaco, they go on a grand tour of italy, rome, venice and more. >> it's our last night here. we'll be in florence tomorrow. ciao! >> reporter: back in the u.s. it's vegas, baby. >> they would do extended, luxurious days at the bellagio, at the wynn, they liked to gamble. >> reporter: at the bellagio, rachel buys blancey a $64,000 rolex.
10:21 pm
one of six rolexes purchased with ralph's money. ralph paid for it all and never got so much as a postcard. more than $100,000 in plane tickets alone. rachel and her family jet setting on ralph's dime. and rachel is even more dangerous on the ground, ralph's credit card always at hand. >> thousand dollar shoes and two thousand dollar suits, they lived to excess in every way. >> reporter: more than $300,000 of ralph's money just at nordstrom's. a money trail a mile long and the beauty of the scam is that none of it traces back to them. anybody looking at the bills would think ralph raines was the one on the spending spree. >> this is one of the craziest cases i've ever seen. this is right out of a hollywood script. >> reporter: in 2011, rachel's career as a caretaker comes to an end when ralph raines sr. dies at the age 91. ralph junior, thinking ahead, makes space on the tombstone for himself, his beloved bride, and
10:22 pm
his son. the con now immortalized in stone. but the scam isn't over yet. in fact, rachel and her partners in crime are about to take the con to a whole new level. can anyone stop them? >> announcer: coming up -- when the money dries up, going after a different kind of green. >> what i was looking at when i stood at the gate was devastation. >> announcer: and two is that bride, mark marks? even her husband doesn't know the truth. when the sweetheart swindle when the sweetheart swindle returns. imagine if the things you bought every day earned you miles to get to the places you really want to go. with the united mileageplus explorer card, you'll get a free checked bag, 2 united club passes... priority boarding... and 50,000 bonus miles. everything you need for an unforgettable vacation. the united mileageplus explorer card. imagine where it will take you.
10:23 pm
10:24 pm
10:25 pm
i'm liz cruthers, i'm a detective with the portland police. >> reporter: detective liz cruthers sees the world through cop's eyes. even when she's just driving to work. >> i live outside of a town called canby and i drive through there every day. >> reporter: on her daily commute into portland, head turning, eyes darting, cruthers spotted something that triggered her police sense.
10:26 pm
this building here. >> i noticed a house right on the main highway that was being extensively remodeled and that remodel job was taking about a year and a half and that seemed like a long time for a remodel job. this town, canby, it's a very small farming community. >> reporter: a horse in a farm town shouldn't raise eyebrows, but this one sure did. i saw some expensive cars parking next to the house. in particular a white ferrari. so for a ferrari to show up in this town, it really stuck out. >> reporter: a 22-year veteran on the job works white-collar crimes but at this point there's no obvious crime and no complaint. just one cop's hunch. >> so it didn't really make a lot of sense for that kind of money to be dumped into this dumpy little house. >> reporter: the license plate mr. big registered to one blancey lee. >> i noticed a smart car that parked there, and the license
10:27 pm
plate on it said mary with a little heart shape, ralph. so i got to wondering who ralph might be. >> reporter: the modest little car belongs to ralph raines, who also owns the property. in fact, it's just one of a number of psychic shops and other real estate recently bought in his name from oregon to california. >> we were very concerned that we had a sweetheart swindle on our hands. >> reporter: why would an oregon tree farmer be investing in psychic shops? she has no idea. and it bugs her. for now, the pieces to the puzzle simply do not fit. >> we still had no crime, we had no victim and more importantly, we didn't have jurisdiction. >> reporter: and so, much like the trees at the raines property, the fraud is to permitted grow. reaching new heights. rachel, a woman with only a grade school education acts like she has an mba and ph.d. in
10:28 pm
psychology. she is a master manipulator wheeling and dealing with lawyers, accountants and realtors, all the while reassuring ralph that everything is under control. then a year and a half later, a chance encounter changes everything. detective cruthers is at a training seminar and she happens to sit next to another detective. >> and at one of the breaks we got to talking and he mentioned that he was from canby police department. >> reporter: that detective is 28-year veteran steve floyd. computer forensics, his specialty. >> and i very flippantly sort of asked him, what are you going to do about that psychic shop right in your backyard? >> reporter: floyd is drawn to the case in part because his dad was a victim of elder abuse. >> the house was being fully remodeled, high end stuff. >> reporter: there's another person there. raines' family friend marlene olson, who grew up logging in oregon. now she works for the department of justice. >> i turned. i said, ralph raines, raines tree farm? >> marlene popped up and said ralph raines? i know him. i know that property. i used to be a logger.
10:29 pm
in fact, i used to go walking all over ralph raines' tree farm. what are the odds that the three of us would be in the same place at the same time? >> reporter: from that chance encounter, an unofficial task force is born. they bring in cameron wall from the irs to dig deeper into the finances. the unit now has the expertise, the jurisdiction, and the juice to turn this into a federal case. >> i've never worked on anything like this in my career and i don't expect to again. >> reporter: because she used to work as a logger at the tree farm, marlene olson is asked to quietly poke around. she is stunned by what she sees. >> it still takes my breath away when i think about it, what i was looking at when i stood at the gate was devastation. there was no trees. >> reporter: that lush, sustainable atm? stripped bare. whoever said money doesn't grow on trees never imagined a swindler like rachel lee. >> once the investment accounts are liquidated and there is no
10:30 pm
money left in the investment accounts, rachel lee turned to the one asset that was left, that was the tree farm. >> reporter: olson sounds the alarm. ralph raines jr. hasn't just lost the trees. he's lost almost all of the land. new owners with chainsaws whirling slice and dice his departed father's legacy to pieces. with the sale, rachel lee has turned herself into an instant millionaire. >> she sold off that tree farm in four parcels that brought in $12 million in one year. >> reporter: adding insult to injury, rachel told ralph he's flat broke. >> rachel told him that he had to sell the tree farm to pay his inheritance tax. >> he says, don, i don't know what i'm going to do. i'm broke. >> which wasn't true. >> reporter: the man who spent his whole life tending these trees now watches his fortune fall. ralph raines ends up with just
10:31 pm
two slivers of land to provide for his wife and child. while his trusted confidante rachel is now going wild providing for herself. >> and as soon as that money began to roll in, she and blancey lee and the rest of the family really ramped up the lavish spending. >> reporter: as soon as those land sales went through mr. big makes good on that promise he made in monte carlo. >> there's my car, there's the car i'm going to get. >> reporter: the not-so-handy man splurges on not one but two brand-new cars. >> he bought the ferrari, the next day he saw a bentley so he spent $500,000 on two cars in two days. >> reporter: the ferrari that first caught the eye of detective cruthers' eye now going nowhere fast in this undisclosed irs warehouse. this one? >> a little over $56,000.
10:32 pm
>> reporter: inside the ferrari, mr. big left his calling card. look at this, there's a prayer card here. it says on the back, lord jesus christ, son of god, have mercy on me, a sinner. that's for sure. now the day of reckoning is fast approaching. prompted by all the suspicious transactions, detective floyd drives through the barren landscape that used to be the raines tree farm. to ask ralph a pressing question. >> i needed to know if he was a victim. >> reporter: so this was full of trees? >> yes. >> reporter: kind of a metaphor there for what happened to his financial life, huh? >> they took it, yeah. cut it, spent it, wasted it. >> reporter: he knocks on the door and immediately asks, what does ralph know about rachel's creative approach to accounting? >> we started asking him, do you know that she's spending $230,000 on a ferrari?
10:33 pm
>> reporter: when we return, ralph's reaction. for the first time ever, the very private ralph raines goes public. >> well, that is a weird story. >> announcer: and next, it's about to get weirder, and maybe even deadlier. >> you were concerned he was going to get killed? >> announcer: after all the money is gone, is he worth more - grocery outlet - grocery outlet is the home of 'wow' savings.
10:34 pm
wow means you save 50% or more. there are three stages of wow. denial... - is this price right? - acceptance... and boooyah! wait for it. boooyah has three o's. ♪ grocery outlet bargain market ♪ - right now get a bone-in spiral half ham for just $1.49 a pound. someday, gus will invent this thing and change the world. this is the thing that could change gus' world. and this is the doctor that could cure that thing so he can grow up to invent this thing. sutter health. proudly caring for northern california, birthplace of pioneers.
10:35 pm
10:36 pm
jack vo: things get a lot more jack vo: vampires wake up.ia, jack vo: werewolves come out. jack vo: the boogie man gets his boogie on. jack vo: and my hashbrowns turn into my new munchie mashups. jack vo:they come with crispy hashbrowns and tasty white cheese mashed up with your choice of savory egg and bacon, buffalo chicken and ranch,
10:37 pm
or jalapeños and bacon. jack vo: so you can keep going until the sun comes up. jack vo: ouch, that's gotta hurt. jack vo: introducing my new munchie mashups. only at jack in the box. >> announcer: "20/20" saturday continues with the sweetheart swindle. >> reporter: his beloved douglas firs have been clear cut. his father's legacy, gone. but ralph raines jr. appears to have no idea where the money went. when we were up at the tree farm with detective floyd, ralph refused to talk to us. are you --
10:38 pm
>> i will not talk. >> reporter: but yet a sudden change of heart. opening up to one of our producers. >> we have a sustainable certified forest. >> reporter: mostly he wanted to talk about trees. he explained there was plenty he couldn't discuss about the case. >> i'm going to be quiet on that. yeah. my lawyers have told me to say nothing. >> reporter: but then he invited us up to his house for a longer chat, discussing his side of that first encounter with the task force. >> he says, "let me show you some things." >> reporter: they went down the list -- expensive cars he'll never drive. vacations he never took. mansions he'll never live in. >> and i said, "well, i got rachel taking care of a lot of my affairs." >> he was just completely checked out on the money side. >> yeah, didn't want to deal with it, gave it to rachel. "let rachel deal with it, she's taking care of me." >> and he said, "she is not." and well, i was willing to listen to them.
10:39 pm
i felt we had a problem. >> reporter: investigators now worry that by confronting ralph, they may have tipped their hand. >> right after they spoke with him the very first time, they realized that he was going to immediately go to rachel lee about the allegations. >> reporter: sure enough, they were right. >> i sprung this on rachel. and rachel, jaw dropped. >> reporter: the detectives move fast, getting a search warrant for that psychic shop in canby, which turns out to be a treasure trove of evidence. >> we found rolexes, we found expensive-looking jewelry, we found valuable coins. >> reporter: but there's more than just bling. investigators discover what appear to be disguises. >> we found two different sets of blonde wigs. the second blonde wig we found was tucked in between the mattress and the bed frame. and it also had a pair of glasses and a hat with it. >> reporter: blonde wig, glasses and a hat. that description fits mary marks to a tee. investigators now make a
10:40 pm
hair-raising discovery that blows the case wide open. ralph's bookkeeper bride mary marks is really rachel's daughter porsha lee. >> rachel lee used her own teenage daughter to scam ralph raines jr. >> reporter: yup. take a look at this halloween photo. ralph's not the only one wearing a costume. remember that "chance meeting" at the airport? planned to perfection by rachel, who pimped out her own daughter to seduce ralph and become his wife, a charade porsha somehow managed to keep up for seven years. putting on the wig -- and the british accent. you can hear it here. ♪ happy birthday to you >> do it one more time, ralph. >> reporter: a major player in the scam -- and it turns out she was a minor. >> at the time that rachel lee enticed her daughter to become part of this fraud scheme, porsha lee was 17 years old. >> reporter: and what about that exquisitely-named child giorgio armani, supposedly conceived through artificial insemination?
10:41 pm
he's another stand-in, a grandchild of rachel lee from a different daughter. at one point, mary marks even wore a fake baby bump. >> so this wasn't just one person scamming an elderly person. this was a conspiracy. this was a whole group. this was a whole family preying upon one man. and they were all playing different parts in the scheme. >> reporter: one more revelation -- it turns out there's a very real person named mary marks, tracing back to the trunk of this twisted family tree. >> rachel lee's biological mother is named mary marks. if you're going to open a bank account, and you're going to transfer property, it helps to have a real name, and it helps that that person is somewhat in your family. >> reporter: even though the scam is unraveling fast, ralph is still caught in the web, rachel still spinning lies to try and explain things. >> and she said, "yes, i spent a lot of money on myself." and she said, "yes, i did accumulate a gambling debt.
10:42 pm
we had so many cock-and-bull stories, i didn't know what to think. >> reporter: but at the one-horse tavern in this one-horse town, the locals said it was perfectly obvious that this little acorn didn't fall from this tree. you didn't think it was his kid? >> no. >> how come? >> didn't look like it. >> reporter: they tried to tell ralph, but he wouldn't listen. >> i told him, i said i didn't think that was his child, kid. >> reporter: and what did he say? >> he said, "yes, it is." >> reporter: he believed it? >> yeah. >> reporter: we don't know what they knew or thought. they declined our request for comments. but authorities say they never raised the alarm. >> the reason it got so bad was -- i didn't get enough good advice on what to do and what i can't do. >> reporter: and it sounds like
10:43 pm
there's plenty of people who should have known better, people who should have been watching out for him. >> there are a number of people who could have intervened at an earlier date and who didn't. >> reporter: it was about this time raines hired a new lawyer, brett hall. >> brett hall, that's right. yeah. >> reporter: did he have a clear sense as to how much he had lost? >> no. he didn't have any idea. >> but even at that point, again, he was still very much under the influence and control of rachel lee. >> reporter: in fact, after investigators explain the full extent of the scam, ralph goes missing. when brett hall can't get in touch with ralph, he contacts the prosecutor. >> i said, donna, "if you don't take these people into custody, there's nothing i can do." there's nothing i can do. >> and he communicated to us that the only way that we could ensure the victim's safety at that time was to make sure that rachel lee was arrested. >> reporter: you were concerned that he was going to get killed? >> the victim's attorney was concerned for his client's safety. >> reporter: that's when the agents race up to bend, oregon, to the psychic shop where ralph
10:44 pm
had his first consultation with rachel a decade ago. agents in bulletproof vests move quickly toward the house. inside they find rachel and porsha, bags packed, looking like they are about to embark on a "thelma and louise"-style getaway. >> their bags were packed. and it looked like they were getting ready to leave. >> they had what we called burner phones. they had gotten rid of their traceable iphones and had disposable phones. porsha lee had $36,000 in cash in her underwear at the time. >> reporter: in her underwear? >> in three rolls in her underwear. >> reporter: no sign of ralph. in the psychic shop. but out back, in a separate building, they find him. squirrelled away and not at his best. >> i would describe him as disheveled. i had met him on two prior occasions and he didn't recognize me even when i introduced myself. >> reporter: property owner randy sargeant shows me the room where they found him. the heir to a
10:45 pm
multimillion-dollar timber fortune -- living in a converted garage. not exactly a multimillion-dollar home, huh? >> no, it's not. >> reporter: the irs agents lead mother and daughter out in handcuffs. first porsha, then rachel. later, blancey turns himself in. >> prosecutors claim they took advantage of a farmer and burned through millions of dollars. >> reporter: we notice a picture, a smiling ralph raines jr. with the young boy he loved like a son. >> we did a lot of things together. i have very good memories from them. >> reporter: up next -- judgment day for the scammers. mary marks unmasked. and then she took it off. >> correct. >> reporter: but even now, with the scam exposed, ralph raines is still in love with mary marks, his bogus bride. >> i can say this -- i view mary as a real person. >> reporter: his blind devotion now threatens to torpedo the now threatens to torpedo the case. ♪ seriously, what is this place? it's heaven. yeah, muscle heaven.
10:46 pm
you want to take one for a test drive? (tires squealing, engine revs) the challenger and charger have the most affordable v8 engines in their classes. check them out now during the fast and furious sales event. the fate of the furious. in theaters april 14th. in dealerships now. now get 20% off msrp cash allowance on select 2017 dodge charger models in dealer stock.
10:47 pm
10:48 pm
10:49 pm
has crazy low prices. do you know how we do it?
10:50 pm
- how? - bargainomics! say, if california has a bumper crop and produces too many oranges. or a winemaker in sonoma suddenly has 1000 bottles too many. we've got name-brand, top-quality groceries priced 40-70% off every day. bargainomics. that's our business model. and our business model is... delicious. ♪ grocery outlet bargain market ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪
10:51 pm
♪ ♪ to take advantage of this offer on a volvo s90, visit your local dealer. >> announcer: "20/20" saturday continues with a sweetheart swindle. >> reporter: the federal courthouse in portland. southwest salmon street. ralph raines is a fish out of water. now almost bankrupt by the family of fraudsters he bankrolled. the amount they stole from him is staggering. more than $15 million. but, astonishingly, he doesn't blame them. >> i have very good memories from them.
10:52 pm
we did a lot of things together. and, you know, with my dad. and giorgio. >> reporter: that sentiment made the prosecutors' job harder. as they were working to win a conviction, ralph was writing them notes like this one, insisting "i am not a victim." >> there's that handwritten note. >> "i'm not a victim." we were not surprised at all that mr. raines would come in multiple times to cover for rachel lee. >> reporter: the handwriting is ralph's. but the words come straight from rachel. >> when rachel lee realized that the meeting that mr. raines had with agents hadn't stopped our investigation, it was then that she began to work with him to craft the letter that you referred to. >> reporter: how is that possible? >> for ten years, rachel lee brainwashed ralph raines jr. it's unclear what he understood at the time. >> reporter: the brainwashing so complete that at the sentencing
10:53 pm
hearing, raines actually takes the stand. raising his ring finger high, to prove to everyone he still loves his wife. even though she and her family took him for all he was worth. and he's still wearing his wedding ring. >> yes. that's the most heartbreaking of all, you know. maybe the day he takes it off we can all breathe a sigh of relief. >> reporter: he hasn't taken it off yet. >> mary gave me the ring. i view myself as i -- i was married to her. >> reporter: that, even after an unorthodox meeting just prior to porsha lee's sentencing. ralph raines jr. had never before seen mary marks out of disguise. so the prosecutors agreed to a sit-down where the bogus bride would reveal all. she wore the hat and the wig and then she took it off. >> correct. >> reporter: but he's still not convinced. >> i view mary as a real person. >> reporter: in court, porsha lee claims she's a victim. betrayed by her mother, forced
10:54 pm
to wear that disguise. the judge doesn't completely buy it. >> she had an opportunity to stop this years ago and she chose to stay engaged in the fraud. she chose to play a fake wife for years. >> reporter: 25-year-old porsha is sentenced to 33 months in prison. roughly 2 1/2 years. blancey gets 24 months. 2 years. a reduced sentence because he cooperated. he promises to pay ralph back. which may take a while, as blancey was last seen selling cheesesteaks from this trailer. under the alias of gino. rachel lee, the mastermind, gets the longest sentence of all. 100 months in prison. about 8 years. amazingly, ralph raines wishes only the best to the gang who stole $15 million from him. >> i want them all to get out and do well. yes. start leading a normal life. i want them to do well honestly. >> reporter: he still wishes he could play a role in the life of
10:55 pm
the boy whose companionship meant more to him than money. little georgio now lives in california with his real mom, porsha's sister. ralph hopes he was a good influence. >> i do have an interest in giorgio even though he's probably not my child, because i took the boy in and i had a relationship with the boy. >> reporter: ralph raines now has a court-approved conservator, someone to protect any money recovered from the sale of the cars, the real estate, and other assets from any future swindlers. >> it's going to be several million dollars by the time we get it back to him. >> reporter: but nowhere close to $15 million. >> nowhere close. >> reporter: ralph will have enough to live on quite comfortably for the rest of his days. >> i expect to live another five to ten years. i just want to watch the trees grow. >> reporter: the raines' tree farm may be gone, along with most of his inheritance. but ralph isn't bitter. they may have taken his trees,
10:56 pm
but ralph says his roots are still here. >> having this much ground clear cut, it's kind of interesting because this is how the place looked when my dad bought it.
10:57 pm
♪ if you grow up here, you really can be anything. sutter health. proudly caring for northern california, birthplace of pioneers.
10:58 pm
10:59 pm
a few updates since we begin reporting on this investigation. rachel lee is still behind bars until the year 2020. her boyfriend was released a few years ago. but por sha is serving out the final months of her sentence in a halfway house. >> the conservator for ralph raines has recovered a substantial amount of his lost money. that's our program for tonight. thanks so much for watching. i'm elizabeth vargas. >> and i'm david muir. for all of us here at "20/20" and abc news, enjoy the rest of your weekend. have a great e


1 Favorite

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on