Ralph Raines, Jr., stands at the centre of the devastation that was once his livelihood. ‘It’s kind of interesting’, he remarks philosophically, ‘because this is how the place looked when my Dad bought it’. Acres of what was recently a lush green forest of renewable, fast-growing Douglas fir is now a wasteland, a broad scar of clear-cut ground.

The forest and the family farm aren’t the only things that were stolen; this barren landscape poignantly reflects the wreckage of Raines’ personal life.

It all started with a need to belong. Raines, heir to his father’s tree farm, had honest work, fresh air, and plenty of money, but lacked two important things: love, and a family to share his life with.

Some might question his choice of confidants. Like many Americans, Raines patronized his local palm-reading boutique. But the woman who took his ten dollars to listen might as well have been his barber, his broker, or his bartender; even if the service given was only some over-expensive platitudes to placate a lonely gentleman farmer in his dreams of finding love with a beautiful blonde, what harm could there be? After all, Raines had enough money to treat himself – and his friends.

His palm reader, Rachel Lee, became a close friend indeed. She didn’t just act as his psychic advisor; after confiding in him that she had kept the books for her now-deceased husband, she provided him with that service, too.

While waiting for Lee to pick him up at the airport one day, an attractive blonde with a British accent approached him and asked him if his name was Ralph. She introduced herself as Mary, and explained that she had gotten a strong psychic read from him. Soon Mary, who told Raines she needed a husband and Green Card to stay at her job in the States, was helping Lee with the books for the Raines Tree Farm.

Lee, for her part, heartily approved of the match, and the two were married; a couple years later, Mary presented him with the literal embodiment of his dreams an heir to his fortune, a boy named Giorgio Armani.

The boy’s name was probably not the first red flag visible to any dispassionate observer, but besides Lee, Raines had no close friends, and the company’s business attorney and his bankers didn’t think it within their jurisdiction to interfere. If it hadn’t been for an alert Portland cop who noticed a too-fancy car parked behind Lee’s small-town psychic shop, the scam a classic example of what lawmakers here term a Sweetheart Swindle might have gone on for longer than the seven years it lasted.

Even when the dream marriage came crumbling down around him, Raines couldn’t believe he’d been had. But everything was fake the books that Lee kept were a careful fabrication, hiding some $15 million spent on lavish vacations, designer watches, and two luxury cars for herself and her boyfriend. The blonde Mary was one of Lee’s daughters in a wig, the chance meeting at the airport, planned and scripted to win Raines’ heart. The tellingly named boy? one of Lee’s grandsons by another daughter (Mary wore a body cushion during her supposed pregnancy). Worse, Lee had convinced Raines to sell the farm the sustainable forest torn asunder into four parcels, with only a small strip of land for one man to live out the rest of his years, reflecting on shattered dreams.

All in all this is a classic case of undue influence, where a manipulative woman took control of a lonely but wealthy man’s life.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about a swindle you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!