One of our former family neighbors from Clairton, PA who had moved to a more upscale part of Greater Pittsburgh had a son with some challenges. The son had been in and out of trouble in high school, bounced from the military, and had minor scrapes with the law. My father convinced the former neighbor that BYU was the place to send his son and thus one more expatriate Clairtonian found himself at BYU. But John, Jr. viewed Provo from quite a different perspective. The naiveté and trusting culture was just the ticket for John, Jr. to enhance his resume of gaining funding through non-traditional and often non-legal means. He told me about his “revolving checking account.” He would open a checking account then write a check for more money than was in the account. In those pre-computer banking days the time between a check being written and its processing often took several days and that time lapse was called the “float.” John discovered that he could use money he did not have for several days before the check would be processed and if he could not cover a check he’d simply write another one, cash it, and deposit part of the cash in the bank to allow the first check to clear. Although he called the process his “revolving checking account,” law enforcement called it check kiting and it was illegal, though rarely enforced.
The check amounts continued to increase until they become unmanageable and John would close one account and open another at a different bank. By doing that and changing his residence regularly he was able to juggle his funds for several months. But he needed more so he took out a loan for 30 days with a finance company. Before the 30 days were up he took out a second larger loan to cover the first and give him extra pocket money. Finally the pyramid got so large that he needed a loan of thousands of dollars. He was rejected by several finance companies (finance companies were the precursor to today’s payday loans). One was willing to loan him the money but required that he get a co-signer given the size of the loan. John, Jr. told the officials at the finance company that his father was well to do and would co-sign the note. Of course, John, Sr. knew nothing about this and was 2,000 miles away working in a white collar job in Pittsburgh. So John, Jr. spun a tale that his father was going to San Francisco on business. As good fortune would have it, he was to change planes in Salt Lake City. John, Jr. would take the contract to his father, have Senior sign it, and return it to the loan company. Trusting souls that they were, they gave him the contract and several hours later John, Jr. returned with the signed document. Of course, senior had never been within 2,000 miles of Salt Lake City and Jr. did not even have to leave Provo. He just forged his father’s signature and killed some time before returning to pick up his money
One evening my phone rang and it was my father. I could hear somebody sobbing in the background and he told me he was at the home of John, Sr. Junior had been thrown in jail and local officials were getting ready to throw the book at him for charges that ranged from check kiting to forgery. Was there anything I could do? Could I talk to the city attorney and see what needed to be done. John, Sr. wanted his son home and would do anything. Today John Senior’s behavior would be called enabling and many parents still do it.
The next day I went to the jail and was directed to the city attorney’s office. Oddly I didn’t even consider seeking legal representation for John, Jr. I simply went to see what I could do to help. The City Attorney was an elderly fellow and a BYU grad. The fact that I would soon be a BYU graduate and fellow alum did not hurt. I explained my father’s role in sending dozens of young men to BYU and this was the first one who had problems. He listened intently and seemed to be impressed. Finally he said, “The State of Utah would just as soon see a bad apple be gone.” He stated that they would release John, Jr. if the following conditions were met: Full restitution for all outstanding monies owed, a one-way non-transferrable, non-refundable bus ticket to Pittsburgh, a promise to never return to Utah, and a deputy accompany him, handcuffed, as far as the first bus stop in Wyoming or Colorado.
I phoned John, Sr. and outlined the conditions laid out by the City Attorney and he agreed to send wire the restitution money (it was well into the thousands), and he agreed to guarantee all other conditions. John, Jr. also agreed, and the next I heard he was back in Pittsburgh. Years later after John, Sr. had passed away, his widow retired in Tucson. I visited her once and we had a nice visit, but John, Jr. was never mentioned. I think he moved to New Jersey and did time for other white collar crime.
As my final semester at BYU began to wind down I realized that I would soon leave the confines and comfort of college and go out into the real world. I registered at the BYU placement office, checked in regularly, and waited to be called for an interview. The calls were few and far between. There was one from an oil company in Cody, Wyoming. Cody is a thousand miles from nowhere and is most famous for a rodeo and having the coldest registered temperature in the continental U.S. on many nights. I interviewed half heartedly and was not offered a job. The next one was with Trane Air Conditioners. Rejected. I even had an interview with J.C. Penney for their management training program. Mr. Penney’s first store was in nearby Kemmerer, WY. What is it with Wyoming? Anyway, they told me that they would only consider hiring me if I first shaved off my moustache. Mr. Penney never wore one and employees were required to be clean shaven. Scratch them off my list. I was headed toward graduation jobless and without prospects.