Published April 01, 2008
This is part of a regular series that profiles America's most wanted criminals.
Leonard Ramey was working at a feed store in the early 1990s, trying to make ends meet in the small farming community of Tualatin, Ore. But Ramey, who often buried his nose in financial news and talked of business ventures, had bigger dreams.
While working at the store, he befriended Michael Timm, a retired commercial pilot with a llama farm whose young, dyslexic son worked with Ramey doing odd jobs.
Timm was impressed with Ramey, who had became a mentor to his son and provided a positive influence in his life.
"I thought of him as a friend," Timm said.
Ramey would talk to Timm about his money-making ideas, and he bragged about his knowledge in finances. He tried to get Timm to invest, and he promised he could deliver a big payoff.
Timm finally jumped in. Over several years he and his family handed over more than $300,000 for Ramey to invest.
What Timm didn't know was that Ramey had trapped him in a "Ponzi" scheme, an illegal pyramid plan that pays investors with proceeds gained from new investors, instead of profits from a legitimate business venture.
Timm gradually grew nervous about the dealings after receiving bogus statements from Ramey, and he repeatedly asked to see tax forms on his investments.
Then Ramey suddenly disappeared, and Timm called the police.
That's when he discovered that the man he called his friend and who had been mentoring his son had been conning people his whole life.
"At least both of my children are alive and healthy, we have a roof over our head," Timm said. "My son learned a lot. It's really kind of bad because at a fairly tender age, he learned that things aren't always as they seem."
Jim Strovink, a detective in the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office for 30 years, says Ramey only cares about himself and will ruin other people's lives to get what he wants.
"I"ll do anything to get Leonard Ramey," Strovink said.
Ramey grew up in a privileged household in California's Napa Valley. His father was a surgeon, and his mother was a nurse.
"He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth," Strovink said.
Ramey went to law school, but he never passed the bar exam. He then became a securities stockbroker, but he didn't get a license. He was also the owner of a company that didn't exist.
Over the years he managed to swindle at least a million dollars from his victims. He even scammed his mother.
But in the 1980s he got caught up in something bigger than himself. A deal went bad, Strovink said, and the Mob came looking for him to collect on a debt.
Ramey vanished. His family, fearing the worst, held a memorial service, Timm said.
"They were sure that he was probably dead," he said.
But Ramey wasn't dead. He fled to the Seattle area and, under an assumed name, started a new life and a new con.
"You have to understand he views himself as a financial wizard," Strovink said.
Ramey befriended some people at a health club, and when the time was right, he led them into his money scheme. When his new friends became suspicious about their investments, he disappeared again.
His next stop was Tualatin, a small farming town near Portland where Ramey squeezed hundreds of thousands of dollars out of Timm and others.
"Eventually, he ends up coming away with the money without paying several people what they were promised," said FBI special agent Leonard Opanashuk.
In late 2001, his cons caught up with him again. Ramey left Oregon without a trace, leaving behind a common-law wife and child. Police found his car parked at an airport. There were no other clues.
"There's not a doubt in my mind that he's out there continuing this scheme; there are victims falling prey to him," Strovink said.
Investigators say Ramey likes to visit diners, ordering Mexican omelets with a glass of milk. He also reads financial newspapers and leaves big tips for waitresses.
Authorities say he loves to gamble, especially blackjack and backgammon. He also wears a horsehead ring on his left ring finger.
Ramey was born in 1946 in Pennsylvania. He is about 5-foot-11, 200 pounds with brown eyes and salt-and-pepper hair.
He is wanted for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, racketeering, laundering a monetary instrument, engaging in a financial transaction in property derived from unlawful activity, selling securities without a license, security fraud and aggravated theft in the first degree.