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Con artist leaves trail of victims from Wisconsin to tip of country

MADISON (WKOW) — A man who claimed to be an attorney and swindled people in Wisconsin and other states in the region surfaces near a sunny beach at the tip of the country.

John Ryan, 33, maintains he’s the senior managing partner at a law firm in Miami.

“He’s not even a licensed lawyer,”  Milly Santana of Miami says.  Santana says before she became aware of Ryan’s impostor status, she made him counsel for her attempt to collect an insurance settlement.

“I sign a retainer contract with him, I pay him $1,000 up front,” Santana says.

That’s the close to the sum of money on a check Ryan provided to Manitowoc attorney Nate Johnson for representing him in a Dane County criminal case.  Court records show the check came back to Johnson after a deposit as coming from a closed account.

Ryan’s Dane County crime involved a 2013 felony case of domestic violence at a Middleton hotel.

Wisconsin security professional Robert Wooten says he responded to an upper floor of the hotel to discover Ryan strangling a woman.  He and a security colleague stopped Ryan and restrained him until police could arrive.

“He may have even said something to the effect of he was an attorney…(and) that…was going to be the end of my career,”  Wooten tells 27 News.

“He was completely out of control,”  Wooten says.

Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesperson Claire Hendricks says Ryan was sentenced to probation in 2013, with the probation revoked the next year and Ryan sent to a state prison.

Ryan’s time in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system included an escape from custody for eight months. State officials say Ryan was caught when he responded to a state office near the state Capitol to clarify information about what turned out to be dozens of fictitious businesses he created.

Hendricks says Ryan was released from Waupun Correctional Facility in August.  A few months later, Ryan was circulating in Miami’s business circles and duping Santana.  Santana says Ryan assured her he was working on earning her an accident settlement.

“I call USAA and they confirm they paid him $15,900 dollars,”  Santana says.

Before surfacing in Florida, Ryan was also convicted of identity theft in Illinois, earning a probation sentence.  He posed as an attorney in Cook County.  Deerfield Patch reports Illinois authorities also confirmed other victims of ID theft by Ryan in Kentucky and Texas.

“Stop with the scam, pay the money, the money doesn’t belong to you, everybody knows who you are already, stop it,”  Santana urges.

It appears that’s far easier said than done.

Our ABC TV affiliate in Miami reports Ryan is the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with his Illinois experience.  But the station reports he’s not been taken into custody, and it’s unclear if the whereabouts of the man who purported to hold down a legal office in a Miami high-rise are even known.

“I feel a deep regret for what I’ve done,”  court records show Ryan told the sentencing judge in his 2013 Dane County felony case.  “However, I hope to rectify it one day by the positive influence and the positive contributions that I can make to the community.”

A request for comment left on Ryan’s voice mail earlier this month at a law firm identified as Harding and Pierce produced no opportunity to interview the elusive Ryan.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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