'The Sweetheart Swindle': Rich older bachelor targeted by gypsy family
03/16/2017 1:35 pm PDT
It sounds like a bad movie plot line: an elderly millionaire conned by psychic who could only see dollar signs in her future. But sadly police say this story is all too real.
For 10 years, Ralph Raines Jr., an heir to a timber-farm fortune, was an unwitting dupe in a mind-boggling and heartless charade.
Ralph Raines, a sweet 72-year-old, is as good a man as you'd ever want meet.
"I like hard work, I like getting dirty, I like watching the trees grow," said Ralph.
You would never know he's rich, but he's the lonely heir to a timber farm fortune, a multimillion-dollar business left to him by his father, Ralph Sr., who started kind of growing money on trees he'd planted on a sprawling 1,200 acres in Gaston, Oregon, just west of Portland.
Despite his wealth, Ralph Jr., who was 60 at the time of his father's death, continued to work hard and live simply in a humble house on the farm.
"I'm not a person that splurges," said Ralph. "My car is 10 years old."
But there was one thing Raines longed for that even all his money couldn't buy: the love of a good woman. That had somehow always eluded the lifelong bachelor.
That is, until he met Rachel Lee, a professional psychic who had just opened a fortune-telling parlor in Bend, Oregon.
"He was going to Rachel for love advice," said Canby Police Det. Steven Floyd.
Ralph liked her comforting companionship. Rachel would soon become his personal advisor and confidante in matters of love and finance, and Ralph eventually hired her as his bookkeeper.
"Rachel had already told Ralph that his attorney and his CPA were lying to him, and Ralph pretty much refused to go back to them," said Det. Floyd.
Rachel had also come through for Ralph on the romance front, predicting that he would meet the love of his life at an airport. And sure enough, that's where Ralph's heart took flight.
"Oh, yes, he told me he had met a lady named Mary at the airport and he was kind of excited about it 'cause he was having a first date," said Ralph's friend and neighbor Ethel Kelly.
The woman he knew as Mary Marks was a very proper-looking young woman with long blond hair, glasses and a British accent. She said she was a financial expert just like Rachel.
And the next thing anyone knew, Ralph had made Mary the first Mrs. Raines, and appointed her as Rachel's assistant bookkeeper.
"When he first told me about the marriage he told me that Rachel didn't want him to tell anybody," said Ethel Kelly. "But he was so excited about it that he wanted to tell me."
That wasn't the only thing Rachel didn't want Ralph telling anybody, because Rachel had used her psychic chicanery to get Ralph to sign control of his entire estate over to her, which allowed her to sell the Raines family tree farm for more than $8 million.
"He thought he sold it for about a million dollars, and he thought that's what he had in his bank account," said Det. Floyd.
Rachel had lied about the selling price and pocketed $7 million, Floyd says. Ralph kept 300 acres of the property, and the house there.
Rachel used some of the profit to buy nine other properties, one of them a sprawling 4,600-square-foot four-bedroom home where she and a revolving door of friends and family members were living. One of them was a man Ralph believed was Rachel's brother Blancey Lee.
"I wasn't overly close to Blancey, but I did like the man," said Ralph.
So Ralph put him on the payroll too, as a handyman. Ralph didn't know that Rachel and Blancey were also using his money to buy designer clothes, Rolex watches and other expensive jewelry, as well as a fleet of vintage and luxury cars. And when they weren't driving in style they were flying high on shopping trips to Beverly Hills and gambling jaunts to Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, and touring European cities.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, Ralph Raines had just learned he was about to become a father -- by immaculate deception. Because he and his young bride Mary had never even had sex.
It's known as the "Sweetheart Swindle." A suspect fakes falling in love, leaving the other person broken-hearted and flat broke.
Mary wants to have a child with Ralph Raines Jr., which is going to be tricky, because they've never had sex, and this Virgin Mary isn't about to start now.
"She convinces him to have a baby with her, but artificially," said Det. Floyd.
An in-vitro baby carrying Ralph's genes -- or so he thinks. And nine months later Mary presents Ralph with a baby boy they give the name of Giorgio Armani.
Giorgio is the child Ralph never thought he'd ever have, and the boy grows up as the old man's pride and joy, the apple of his eye.
"He loved that child. He raised that child," said Ethel Kelly, Ralph's neighbor.
But Canby Police Detective Steven Floyd has a hunch there's something fishy, and not just in regard to little Giorgio.
There was also the surprising sale of the $9 million tree farm Ralph had inherited from his father.
"I was like, 'This is really suspicious,'" said Det. Floyd.
Then there is the unusual display of prosperity at Rachel's little psychic shop, with high-end cars coming and going, and remodeling of the building.
A curious Detective Floyd decides to dig a little deeper.
"So I went and subpoenaed the bank records from three or four different banks," said Floyd.
And he discovers that Rachel and Blancey have ripped off just about all of Ralph's $15-million fortune.
"I think there was only $125,000 left in his bank accounts," said Det. Floyd.
Armed with a search warrant Detective Floyd leads raids on Rachel's psychic shop, along with the million-dollar home she bought with Raines family money.
Among the evidence seized are incriminating videos shot by Blancey and Rachel themselves chronicling how they had wallowed in opulence and excess on Ralph's dime.
Detective Floyd learns that Ralph had fallen prey to a notorious band of gypsies working what's known as a "sweetheart swindle."
"They went to some extremes to get this money from him," said Floyd.
Acting out an elaborate decade-long charade masterminded by Rachel Lee, aided by Blancey, who isn't really her brother, as Ralph believed, but was in fact her longtime boyfriend and right-hand con man.
"Blancey called himself the 'King of the Gypsies,' or the 'Italian Gypsy,'" said Det. Floyd. "He loved to spend money. He was flamboyant with it."
But while Rachel and Blancey broke the bank, they also broke Ralph's heart. And the best actress award goes to the woman who played Ralph's young wife Mary Marks for nearly 10 years without him ever having a clue their wedding was faked.
"We checked the records. There was no marriage certificate," said Floyd.
Her name wasn't really Mary Marks, either. She borrowed that from her grandmother, Rachel's mom. "Mary Marks'" real name was Porsha Lee -- she's Rachel Lee's own daughter. She was just 18 when she was recruited her to wear a blond wig and glasses and speak with a British accent to fulfill her mother's psychic prediction that Ralph would meet the love of his life at an airport.
Ralph would be even more devastated to also learn that his beloved son Giorgio Armani, the boy he'd raised since birth, wasn't really his son at all. And Mary/Porsha was not Giorgio's mother either. His real mother is Porsha's sister, who'd loaned out the poor innocent child to enrich her gypsy family.
Porsha had worn a foam "baby bump" to fake her pregnancy, and conveniently left town so she could also fake the birth.
Ralph is said to have been crushed, his life shattered, living without the woman and child he loved.
"He almost died when it was revealed to him about her," said neighbor Ethel Kelly.
"I still don't think he's convinced that Mary's not his wife and Georgio is not his son," said Det. Floyd.
And amazingly, Ralph is ready to forgive and forget.
"If they will be honest with me and up front and be willing to rectify the situation, I can accept that," Ralph tells Crime Watch Daily.
But others are horrified by what Rachel and her family did to Ralph.
"They're disgusting. And they should be in prison for the rest of their days," said Ethel.
That's not going to happen. Rachel Lee, 46, is now two years into an eight-year sentence she's serving in federal prison for fraud and other charges.
Daughter Porsha, now 27, has almost completed her 33-month sentence.
Blancey Lee was just recently released after serving 18 months.
The three were ordered to pay Ralph Raines Jr. a total of more than $30 million in restitution. He's already received several million dollars in unspent stolen cash and recovered luxury goods, enough for Ralph to get the family tree farm business going again.
"I love planting trees. I'm going to plant lots of trees," said Ralph. "This is what I enjoy."
And his trees are the only family he has left now.