Joe Chatlain displays his Vigiliance Award as well as his new book, The Illusive Highwayman, recounting his efforts to catch a con artist. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Joe Chatlain displays his Vigiliance Award as well as his new book, The Illusive Highwayman, recounting his efforts to catch a con artist. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Book tells tale of how B.C. office fax led to U.S. con man

Island man spent a few years tracking down victims listed on faxes

Some 20 years ago, while working as operations manager at the Lafarge office in B.C., Joe Chatlain started to piece together faxes coming in from the western U.S.

The messages had nothing to do with the business in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. They weren’t even for Lafarge but rather a man with no connection to the company, and they helped Chatlain catch a con artist.

Now, he’s captured his incredible story down on the page, publishing a book, The Illusive Highwayman, which recounts the case that he helped crack.

Jozsef Rezsofi, occasionally using an alias or two, spent the better part of 30 years as a grifter and a drifter who conned countless people in seven western U.S. states.

“He was a very intelligent person,” says Chatlain, who now lives in the Nanaimo area.

For years, Rezsofi would wander the highways and look for help, saying he’d been mugged and his identification had been stolen. People would give him money, typically small amounts like $50 – maybe a few hundred – or they’d pay for meals or hotels or buses, or take him in overnight. He said he had a business in Prince Rupert and a home in Sidney. He’d leave the same number for these Good Samaritans to get in touch later, once he was back safe and sound in Canada, or so they’d been led to believe.

That number turned out to be that of the local Lafarge office, and Chatlain started collecting the faxes coming in. Often, they’d be wishing Rezsofi well, hoping he got back safely.

“Nobody but me knew that this was actually a fraud and a scam,” Chatlain says.

Rezsofi could spin a good story. He’d actually been in Canada, including B.C., after fleeing Hungary in 1957 following the revolution in the Soviet-run state. However, he was to be deported because of auto theft and skipped over the border to the U.S. There, he got married, had kids, got divorced, then started his life on the run probably in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

On the faxes, some people checked about getting their money back. One was a woman whose husband had cancer and was in bad need of funds, which was when Chatlain got serious about tracking down Rezsofi.

“That’s what sparked me at that point in time,” he says.

For a few years, he’d spent hours each week, going over correspondence, talking to victims, marking points on a map of the U.S. to estimate Rezsofi’s whereabouts based on where the faxes had been sent from and when they’d been sent.

Finally, in the spring of 2000, one of Rezsofi’s victims named Terry Churchill and local law enforcement in Montana managed to track the con-man using information provided by Chatlain. The con artist was arrested after a chase between Great Falls and Missoula, Mont. He did time behind bars in the U.S. and after his trial, for which Chatlain was subpoenaed as a witness, he was deported to Hungary. As a result, both Chatlain and Churchill received Vigilance Awards from Department of Justice officials in Montana.

Court records indicated Rezsofi had swindled a total of almost $5,000, but the authorities figured this was only a fraction. They don’t know how many people he bilked, Chatlain says, but they guess he could’ve brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, all tax free. The faxes sent to Chatlain’s office only covered a small portion.

“There would be hundreds more that wouldn’t have contacted me,” he says.

By conning people out of relatively small amounts, Rezsofi almost had the perfect crime, one for which many victims wouldn’t even bother coming forward.

“The reason he was never caught is because he did small amounts,” Chatlain says.

Rezsofi’s one mistake though was that fax machine in Courtenay. It not only helped Chatlain track him down, but it provided enough evidence of the scale of Rezsofi’s crimes for prosecutors to make a case.

For a couple of years there, Chatlain says his fax machine was the talk of the town in coffee shops around Courtenay. Chatlain spent a year after trying to sort out more information and decided to start working on a story. He wrote out a draft by hand and had an editor develop it.

“I decided I should write a book,” he says.

The project fell by the wayside for years, but he recently decided to revive it and get it to print.

“I’m getting to be the age I need to do something with that,” he says.

Now he’s published it in book form, which he has made available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com, and also as an e-book, a republished version of which should be ready by November.

READ MORE: BC Hydro telephone scam making the rounds

He’s also hoping to hold some book events and would like to see the story take on another life, perhaps as some kind of TV series or movie. He’s even hoping to draw some attention in the U.S., and maybe even get the word out to others there that had fallen prey to Rezsofi’s charms.

Through it all, Chatlain was motivated by a sense of doing right for the victims, all of whom opened their hearts and wallets to help out a man they believed to be in distress. Many thought Rezsofi would never be caught.

“I’d been told and told and told he’d never be captured,” Chatlain says.

Some even refused to believe this was all the work of a real person, but Chatlain held out hope all his work would pay off.

“I believed in what I was doing, and I just wouldn’t give up,” he says. “I knew he’d be caught.”



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read