He persuaded friends and neighbors to invest in his car deals. At least $1M vanished.

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Haley Forsyth owns her dream home: high ceilings, lots of natural light, walls she painted herself. She described her south Fort Worth house as a “spiritual space,” a haven she’s invested time and money into.

There’s just one problem. Forsyth’s next-door neighbor is the man who, she says, scammed her out of her life savings.

“I wake up thinking about it. I go to bed thinking about it. I can barely function,” Forsyth said.

Forsyth, a health insurance agent, had known her neighbor Robert Rambo for about six years when he approached her in late 2023 and asked her to invest in his car-flipping business. For every $20,000 she signed over to him, he said, he’d buy one car at auction, resell it and return her money plus $1,200 profit.

If Rambo was a stranger, Forsyth said, she wouldn’t have given the offer a second thought. But this was her next-door neighbor. Over the years, Rambo had mowed her lawn when she needed a hand. Rambo’s wife had watched Forsyth’s son when she couldn’t get home from work in time. Forsyth thought of Rambo as a businessman, a successful real estate agent with lots of balls in the air at any given time. But more than that, she saw him as a kind man, a family man.

So she gave him $60,000.

Rambo was supposed to give her that money back within two weeks, according to a contract they both signed. It’s been nearly eight months since Forsyth signed her savings over to Rambo, and she’s gotten less than $1,000 back, she said.

The financial and emotional toll has prompted Forsyth to start the process of moving from the house she loves. And while she’s grappling with the fallout in her own life, Forsyth has also discovered — through her own research and social media posts — that she isn’t the only one chasing Rambo down for money owed.

Fort Worth resident Haley Forsyth was scammed out of $60,000 from her next door neighbor, Robert Rambo, after signing a contract to flip three vehicles in late 2023. “Emotionally this is the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” said Forsyth.

A Star-Telegram investigation identified eight people in North Texas, including Forysth, who say Rambo scammed them out of money, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars. The people who spoke with the Star-Telegram provided documentation that Rambo owed them, in total, $1.2 million.

The Star-Telegram obtained records that back up the accounts of all eight of the people interviewed for this story. That includes wire transfer receipts, court documents and incident reports filed with police. Seven of the eight people also had contracts or loan repayment agreements signed by Rambo. The earliest investment dates back to 2018, records show.

Rambo did not agree to an interview for this story. But in an email to the Star-Telegram, he wrote that he has paid investors thousands of dollars in profits over the years, and that he is “restructuring to have them all paid back by the end of the year.”

Some of the people who spoke to the Star-Telegram have gone to the police with their cases. But, they say, they were largely ignored or pushed toward civil court. Those who did pursue civil lawsuits say they still haven’t seen any of their money, even after courts ordered Rambo to pay them back.

So far, only Forsyth’s case has gotten traction. Similar to others, she described Fort Worth police as uninterested and difficult to work with. However, investigators did file one criminal charge against Rambo — a third-degree felony charge for theft of property, which could carry a prison sentence of two to 10 years. The case is winding its way through Tarrant County criminal court.

Robert Rambo of Fort Worth is facing one criminal charge, for allegedly stealing $60,000 from his next door neighbor. At least seven other people have accused him of fraud, but he is not currently facing criminal charges in any of those cases.

The accounts of the eight people who spoke with the Star-Telegram, taken together, illustrate a gap in the legal system where victims of certain types of financial crimes struggle to find either justice or recompense. And without any imminent consequences, alleged fraudsters are able to repeat their scams over and over again.

Brian Trachtenberg, a Houston-based attorney who frequently represents scam victims, said he isn’t surprised by the lack of police response to Rambo’s alleged victims. It’s a common theme in fraud cases, he said.

“It is unbelievably difficult to get law enforcement attention for financial crimes,” said Trachtenberg, who is not involved in any of the Rambo cases.

A Fort Worth police spokesperson said in an email that the department doesn’t have a specialized unit to address these types of crimes. The spokesperson said every incoming report is assigned to a detective, but that each case is unique and the outcomes vary.

Forsyth and others who lost money believe the lack of police interest is what has allowed Rambo to swindle so many people for so many years. And while the Star-Telegram’s reporting confirmed a total of $1.2 million that Rambo owes to eight people, Forsyth thinks the real figure may be much higher.

‘He’s a con artist’

At a mid-April court hearing for the criminal charge against him, Rambo was one in a sea of people on the docket.

He wore a black suit with a white button-down shirt and no tie. Over the course of about an hour, as attorneys bustled through the courtroom and shuffled through the long docket, Rambo talked to a court officer at least four times, in hushed tones that didn’t carry across the courtroom.

Rambo was easy to identify from his fully shaved head, a look that has led Forsyth’s 11-year-old son to refer to him as “Eggman,” in reference to the villain from Sonic the Hedgehog.

Rambo answered phone calls from the Star-Telegram but requested that his defense attorney be present for any interview. His Fort Worth-based attorney, Landon Loker, said in an email that he’s “aware of the allegations” but cannot comment on them due to ongoing investigations.

Rambo said in an email that he’s paid the investors “thousands and even tens of thousands of dollar(s)“ in $1,000/month payments over the years. While his email acknowledged that he still owes investors money, he didn’t respond specifically to the allegation that he owes more than $1 million to eight investors.

Though they now believe he’s stolen their money, Rambo’s investors said there were a host of reasons to initially trust him.

The investors believed Rambo was an honest, family-oriented man. Several people said Rambo seemed to be close with his family, including his grandkids; a few brought up that he’s a youth soccer coach. Many of the investors said they felt like they personally knew Rambo, too.

A Dallas business owner in his 30s said he and his father invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with Rambo, who signed a repayment agreement for $460,000. The man described the Rambos as family friends, which led to an amount of trust. But it wasn’t just about personal trust; Rambo was willing to sign documents and was initially paying them the profits he had promised.

“He was paying us. It was working,” the man, who asked not to be identified in this article in fear of retaliation, said. “That trust led to more trust, and then it got too deep, and he cut it off.”

Three other investors said Rambo initially paid them back some or all of their profits. That fits a scam formula sometimes called “pig butchering,” which can slowly lure people into investing more and more money over time.

Rambo also frequently put his deals into writing, signing contracts and promissory notes with almost all of the investors who spoke to the Star-Telegram.

Rambo has other trappings of professionalism, too. His Texas real estate license is active, according to the Texas Real Estate Commission’s database, and acted as the real estate agent for at least three of the people who later gave him money. Rambo met at least two potential investors in an office at a car dealership in south Fort Worth, also making him seem legitimate. (When the Star-Telegram contacted the dealership, the owner said Rambo was the real estate agent for the property, but that he has never worked with Rambo on car deals and that Rambo hasn’t taken business meetings at the dealership.)

The business model Rambo described — purchasing vehicles only when he had buyers lined up — looked solid enough to convince a Dallas commercial real estate investor to send over his money. The commercial real estate investor, who asked not to be identified, gave Rambo $210,000 over the course of about a year and a half, according to legal filings and other documents.

“He just would look at you with these crystal blue eyes,” the man said. “He’s a con artist. Total con artist.”

Despite the appearance of legitimacy that drew in investors, legal filings connected to Rambo suggest financial troubles. Even before lawsuits accusing him of fraud, court records show, Rambo was sued in 2012 for allegedly failing to pay about $30,000 in rent and fees on a commercial space in Southlake. He was also at risk of losing his house when his homeowners association successfully sued him in 2020 for nearly $8,000 in unpaid fees.

The Dallas business owner in his 30s said, beyond the paperwork and the personal trust, his decision to invest with Rambo really came down to his own desire to make money, which he let overshadow his decision-making.

“Really, you’re blinded by greed. And that’s the embarrassing part,” he said.

‘He used every excuse you can imagine’

Sheila Patel first made Rambo’s acquaintance years ago, when she and her husband owned a hotel and convenience store in Fort Worth. The couple wasn’t close with Rambo, Patel said. But they knew him well enough that, a few years later, their daughter recognized his name when he sold a home to her friend.

Patel’s daughter happened to be looking for her first home, too, and they thought Rambo might be a good fit. The family toured homes with Rambo and eventually their daughter purchased her first home in Dallas through him.

On the tours, Rambo heard Patel talk about her search for a car for herself and a truck for her son. He told her that, coincidentally, he was also in the car business.

After Patel’s daughter closed on her house in 2018, Rambo offered to take Patel to a car auction to see if they could find anything she liked. She agreed, but none of the cars at the auction fit her wish list. She wanted a Porsche Cayenne for herself and a GMC hybrid truck for her son. Rambo said he could find them for her, but he’d need some money upfront so he could make down payments.

Patel and her husband agreed to give him $65,000.

Patel said her understanding was that the funds were for Rambo to secure the vehicles they were looking for, although the promissory note Rambo signed also mentions the sale of other vehicles.

Rambo later told Patel and her husband that he had invested the money in trucks that he planned to resell for a profit. Patel was annoyed he’d used their down payment for a different business deal and told Rambo she just wanted their money back.

That’s when Rambo started to give them the runaround, Patel said.

“He used every excuse you can imagine,” she said.

In early 2021, more than two and a half years after they sent money to Rambo, Patel and her husband sued. Dallas District Court filings show Rambo never appeared in court or responded to the lawsuit, which led to a default ruling of $65,000 plus interest and lawyer fees.

Three years later, Patel says they haven’t recouped any of their money.

Between the financial loss and a home break-in the same year, Patel said her world collapsed around her for a time. She had considered Rambo a family friend, she had let him into her home, she had trusted him.

“I was beyond myself (with) betrayal. I felt like a victim,” Patel said. “How could this man walk through our doors and literally take $65,000 out from under our noses?”

Over the course of a few years, Patel largely buried those emotions. She moved on with her life. She resigned herself to the lost money and tried not to be immediately suspicious of every new person she met.

Then, in February, she was lying on her bed scrolling through posts on the social media app Nextdoor. A photo of Rambo popped onto her feed.

It was a post from Forsyth, asking if anyone out there had heard of Rambo or his schemes. Seeing his face again gave Patel a full-body cringe, she said, and resurfaced years-old feelings.

That’s when she realized she wasn’t the only one who’d gotten wrapped up in Rambo’s business deals.

Fort Worth resident Haley Forsyth shows the post she wrote on the social media app NextDoor in February concerning her neighbor, Robert Rambo, while scrolling through her phone on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

‘He doesn’t respond to anything’

Forsyth’s social media post, along with some of her own research, turned up more people who had sent Rambo money under the impression they were investing in his business.

The eight people who spoke with the Star-Telegram described similar deals with Rambo, varying in total investment from $40,000 to nearly 10 times that. They described investing with Rambo under the impression that he would buy and resell standard vehicles or, in some cases, tractor-trailers. Two investors described slightly different setups: Patel — who sent money for her own vehicle down payments — and another investor who initially agreed to fund a car lot for Rambo, but later also invested in vehicle flipping.

Among them, the eight people have tried just about every avenue to get Rambo to either pay them back or take some type of accountability.

Several of them say they’ve texted and called Rambo repeatedly, or shown up at the door of his house to ask what’s going on.

The Dallas business owner has tried pushing Rambo and his business contacts to find Rambo’s assets. He got Rambo to sign over the deed to his south Fort Worth house, according to a February filing with the Tarrant County clerk’s office. But even that hasn’t gotten his money back.

“Robert has always been willing to sign a document,” the man said. That “gives his victim a sense of security, and he also knows that not much is going to happen with that signed document.”

Then there are the more formal routes. At least three people have brought their complaints to civil court — two of them in District Court and one in small claims.

Joe Doyle, a Dallas father of three, filed in small claims court in Dallas County, after he lost a $40,000 investment to Rambo. In late April, after Rambo failed to respond to the case, the justice of the peace ruled in Doyle’s favor. Rambo officially owes Doyle $20,000, which is less than Rambo borrowed but the maximum allowed in small claims.

Doyle said he plans to file a second case for the other $20,000. But he isn’t encouraged by the ruling.

“It doesn’t matter, he doesn’t respond to anything,” he said.

Doyle said he doesn’t feel there’s a realistic path to getting his money back, particularly because he doesn’t see any evidence Rambo is living lavishly.

“The thing is that, I don’t know where the money went,” Doyle said. “There’s no hope once you see how he’s living.”

The two others who filed in civil court — Patel and the Dallas commercial real estate investor — also won by default when Rambo failed to show up. Despite the rulings, both people said, they still haven’t seen any money from Rambo.

Trachtenberg, the Houston-based attorney, said there are times when civil court can work for scam victims. But if the person sued doesn’t have assets — or those assets can’t be located — then a court ruling might just be another dead end.

“The average person is going to get lost trying to collect on that, and the average sheriff is going to throw his hands up,” Trachtenberg said.

Plus, the American legal system is based primarily on the looming threat of jail or other punishment. When a person doesn’t care about those threats, it’s hard to enforce cooperation, Trachtenberg said. Especially when people simply don’t show up in civil court.

“Anybody willing to just take the default judgment doesn’t care about the consequences,” Trachtenberg said.

‘How is he getting away with this?’

And then there’s the police route, which five of the eight people said they’ve tried, too. All of them said it was a battle to even get police to take a report.

Fort Worth police records show four of those five have filed incident reports alleging Rambo stole from them. Only Forsyth’s report has resulted in charges against Rambo, according to online records from the Tarrant County District Clerk.

Trachtenberg said he’s found police often don’t pursue reports of financial crimes, particularly when the alleged crimes are non-corporate and involve individual investors.

At least four people have reported Robert Rambo to the Fort Worth police, all alleging that he stole money from them. Only one of those reports has led to criminal charges.

Fort Worth police did not make detectives or department leaders available for interviews for this story, about the Rambo reports or financial crimes generally. However, a department spokesperson sent some responses over email.

Officer Brad Perez wrote that every report the department receives is assigned to a detective. What happens next depends on the facts of the case, Perez wrote, and in some cases “an individual may believe a criminal offense occurred, but there is no actual evidence supporting such a claim.”

He noted that one Rambo report — Forsyth’s — did result in criminal charges that are now in the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s office. That office’s spokesperson, Anna Tinsley Williams, declined to comment or make staff available to talk about Rambo’s case or financial crimes in general.

The Dallas commercial real estate investor, who filed a police report in addition to his civil lawsuit, said he feels the Fort Worth police don’t care about swindlings because they aren’t violent crimes.

“Robert needs to kill somebody for them to respond,” he said. “There needs to be a threat of physical harm.”

Mary Bernard — who works as a caregiver in the Metroplex — feels acutely aware of the timeline of her police report. She sent Rambo $80,000 in August 2023, and reported him to police in mid-October after it became clear that she wasn’t going to get her money back.

Bernard filed her police report a month before Forsyth sent her savings to Rambo.

“If you would’ve taken my case and filed it, maybe he wouldn’t have ripped off (Forsyth),” Bernard said of the police.

Patel said the lack of police action feels like tacit approval of Rambo’s behavior. By refusing to take up her case, Patel said, she felt the police were saying it’s OK to steal from people.

“Justice needs to come from somewhere,” Patel said. “How is he getting away with this? How?”

Perez, the police spokesman, said in an email that the department wants residents to trust the system.

“It’s crucial that we address these concerns to ensure all voices are heard and that actions are taken seriously,” Perez wrote.

An emotional double-whammy

The investors said their losses and the subsequent lack of accountability have taken an emotional toll. Most said their perceptions of themselves or the world around them have been fundamentally shaken.

Forsyth said the experience has made her feel “like a joke.” The Dallas business owner said he no longer believes people generally have good intentions. The Dallas commercial real estate investor said it has “blown a total hole in me.”

Haley Forsyth said it was difficult to get Fort Worth police to take her report after she lost $60,000 to her neighbor, Robert Rambo. Police ended up filing a third-degree felony charge for theft of property against Rambo.

Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, a University of Pennsylvania law school professor with a doctorate in psychology, studies contracts and decision-making and wrote a book on how the fear of being a “sucker” influences decisions. Falling victim to a scam is an emotional double-whammy of regret and embarrassment, Wilkinson-Ryan said. That means it hits people differently than if they were to lose money in a random crime such as a bank hack.

“You experience this feeling of self-recrimination,” she said. “You can basically play back in your own mind the choices you made that led to this bad outcome.”

Those twin feelings of regret and embarrassment can blind victims — and outside observers — to the reality that scams are not the victims’ fault, Wilkinson-Ryan said.

“In some ways, it’s really comforting to think to yourself, ‘Oh this thing sounds so bad, but it wouldn’t happen to me.’ And the way you get there is by blaming the victim,” she said. “I think that’s relatively wishful thinking.”

And, for several of Rambo’s investors, there’s an added emotional complication: before they invested with Rambo, they considered him a friend.

Patel said the feelings of betrayal put her so far back on her heels that she spiraled into a deep depression. While she’s been able to claw her way out of the worst of that over the past several years, she still analyzes and judges people in a way she never did before.

“I’m very wary,” she said. “He changed me. … He took a part of me that I’ll never get back.”

On the whole, the victims who spoke with the Star-Telegram were resigned to the reality that they will probably never get their money back. Several of them have instead focused on getting Rambo behind bars.

Because if he isn’t, they say, who else might he scam?