Driven to Steal: 7News investigation helps catch fugitive accused of scamming victims

(WSVN) - A 7News investigation helped catch a fugitive a thousand miles away from South Florida. 7’s Brian Entin has this exclusive update of how police finally put the brakes on a man they believe was “Driven to Steal.”

Milly Santana, victim: “Oh, wow.”

This is the first time Milly Santana sees the newest mugshot of John Ryan, the man she said turned her life into an expensive nightmare.

Milly Santana: “He’s very smart. That’s why he has been able to get away with scamming so many people.”

He won’t be getting anywhere anytime soon, though.

Sgt. Rick Bernas, Deerfield Police Department: “I’m thankful that he’s behind bars because I think if he’s not, there will be more victims wherever he goes.”

Last year, John Ryan came to Miami and started working as a lawyer out of a building when he crossed paths with Milly. She wanted help to get a settlement after a car accident, but as she revealed in our May report, her legal representative ended up being less than lawful.

Milly Santana: “He’s not even a licensed lawyer!”

This is not the first crime he has been accused of. In 2013, Ryan was convicted of strangling his girlfriend in Wisconsin. He never finished his sentence and was a fugitive for nine months until he was busted for registering bogus businesses.

Milly Santana: “They understand John Ryan is a career criminal.”

He made his way to Deerfield, Ill. next, where he pleaded guilty in a big ID theft case in 2017. Police said he was running a number of scams.

Sgt. Rick Bernas: “He was scamming people he moved, credit card companies, hotels, movers, people that needed attorney representation — anyone he came in contact with.”

He skipped probation and ended up in Miami. By the time Milly discovered Ryan’s past, she had already paid him $1,000 to represent her. She said he also took insurance money that was supposed to go to a repair shop to fix her car.

Milly Santana: “I have not been able to retrieve it because I owe them $16,000.”

We tried calling Ryan to get him to talk to us, but he would never agree to meet in person.

After our story aired in early May, Milly’s case grew cold — until she got a call from police in Illinois.

Milly Santana: “He called me, and he told me that they caught John Ryan.”

Ryan was arrested at a car dealership outside Chicago on May 17. Police said he was trying to buy a car with cash, and a suspicious salesperson was the one who sounded the alarm.

Sgt. Rick Bernas: “The person was pretty wary about the transaction and did an internet search on John Ryan and came across some articles of previous arrests.”

One of them came from 7News.

Belkys Nerey (in previous 7News report): “A suspect on the run from Illinois has turned up here in South Florida.”

Miami Police told 7News they are working to extradite Ryan to Florida.

Milly’s experience has inspired her to help other scam victims. She’s setting up a nonprofit to help link them with proper legal support.

Milly Santana: “I’ve learned that there’s so many millions of people going through the same thing that I’ve been through, and I would definitely love to help other people.”

She is now waiting for John Ryan to finally face a judge in South Florida, as his run from justice comes to a screeching halt.

John Ryan is being held in the Lake County Illinois Jail on a bond of more than $2 million.

Milly is working with Victims Awareness to form a new team that will provide resources for scam victims. You can click the link for more information on the organization, or call 1-866-99AWARE (29273) for scam victim assistance.

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