EVEN now, years later, Steve Josifovski doesn’t want to believe he was ripped off.
After all, he and Lemuel Page had grown up together: they'd known each other since kindergarten at Waratah West Public School, spent their weekends together.
“We grew up very close,” Mr Josifovski said. “But when he turned 16 he moved to Sydney and we lost touch.”
Then one day in late 2001, without a word for more than a decade, Page turned up at Mr Josifovski's family home in Waratah.
It didn’t take long before he was forced to take costly legal action to try to recoup more than $150,000 he invested with Page in shares that never eventuated and property deals. Then, for years Mr Josifovski’s old school mate assured him - “I made a bank transfer yesterday” - but repaid hardly a fraction of the original debt.
“Page has perfected his strategy,” Mr Josifovski said.
“He’s an expert at taking people’s money, he doesn’t care who you are.”
In a scathing judgement handed down in August 2010, Judge Margaret Sidis found Page “falsified documents”, “fabricated” evidence, lied about being involved in developments and took money for shares he never bought.
“Mr Page's capacity for deceit was evident from the proffering of falisified documents to support his defence,” she said.
Judge Sidis ruled in Mr Josifovski's favour and ordered Page pay him almost $250,000, plus more than $130,000 in legal costs.
Since the judgement became public, people keep calling Mr Josifovski. People he has never met. Fellow victims. They reported common and familiar threads.
Page has been up to his old tricks again. His lengthy history of leaving investors short-changed has been exposed by Fairfax Media with dozens of people detailing how they have been ripped off by the con man.
- Newcastle fraudster's tall tale of dealing in the black market
- The art of the con
- Former fraud squad detective on why Lemuel Page victims should speak out
Page's modus operandi is smooth.
He boasts of being a wealthy businessman, doing “high-end” property deals and has made big money on the stock exchange.
He assured Mr Josifovski, and gave evidence in the court proceedings, that he had links with Theo Baker, a dot.com entrepreneur who was number 142 on the BRW Rich 200 list in 2001 with an estimated wealth of $130 million.
Mr Josifovski, who runs a successful arcade machine business, was further convinced when Mr Baker signed on as a partner in the first property deal he got involved in to develop a disused Mayfield service station into units.
When contacted by Fairfax Media, Mr Baker said that he knew Page “from the past” and declined to make any further comment.
Since the 1990s, working from Newcastle or Sydney, Page has promoted himself as a financial wheeler-dealer.
His connections in business and real estate circles gave him contacts and credibility. His smooth talking did the rest.
“Neither of us had much as kids,” Mr Josifovski said.
“I've worked all my life and I was really happy to see he'd done so well.
“He started coming up to Newcastle with some high-end people and he’d call up and ask me to catch up for drinks or dinner.
“It took about six months for him to start talking to me about getting into deals.”
The outward persona Page presented was spot-on. His lifestyle was lavish – luxury cars, expensive watches, a penchant for the high life and plenty of talk about his high-yielding share and property deals.
Trusting his old friend, Mr Josifovski invested $85,000 for share purchases and more than $90,000 for several property deals at Mayfield, South Sydney, Cardiff and Forster.
In the months, then years, that followed, Mr Josifovski found himself continually chasing Page to find out why the developments weren’t proceeding.
Page used his notorious delaying tactics, blamed others for the problems, all the while persisting with the fiction that the money was about to arrive from his next deal.
Finally, Mr Josifovski ran out of patience.
Whatever the reason for the deceit, he had no intention of going quietly.
Increasingly unable to get Page on the phone, he first took legal action in the NSW Supreme Court over the Mayfield development.
That was settled out of court. Then he took action against Page in the NSW District Court.
“The sad thing with Lemuel is he is looking for deep friends and love,” Mr Josifovski said.
“When he finds it, he betrays their trust and leaves a trail of destruction.
“It’s why all victims need to speak up and come forward.
“You are not alone.”
A four-day court hearing in August 2010 heard of fabricated documents, falsified invoices, missing reports, made-up property deals and doctored correspondence.
The nightmare was complete.
Judge Sidis said Page took money from Mr Josifovski claiming it would be spent on developments in Forster, South Sydney and Cardiff.
But Page had no interest in the developments and could not account for the missing money.
She further found that documents presented by Page to support his argument that he purchased shares for Mr Josifovski were “fabricated”.
She said claims by Page that funds were invested in the shares he identified were “obviously falsely supported by fabricated documentation and there was no evidence at all to establish what happened to the funds provided for the shares”.
She went further to say: “I rejected Mr Page as a witness of credit. I preferred the evidence of Mr Josifovski in all circumstances where there was a conflict between them.”
With debts of more than $17 million, Page signed a $180,000 personal insolvency agreement last November – that many creditors argued against – that saved him from bankruptcy.
Page claimed he only had $200 in the bank and couldn't repay the millions he owed to former friends and associates.
An unsecured creditors list from 2015 showed Page owed $5.8 million to Sydney cosmetic dentist Dr Angelo Lazaris, $2.8 million to Sydney GP Donald Munro, $90,000 to his long-term accountant Phillip Joannou and $400 to Bartier Perry lawyer Chris Tsovolos.
Dr Munro, who has been involved in several developments with Page, did not respond to Fairfax Media’s requests for comment. Neither did Dr Lazaris.
Little detail was provided in the bankruptcy report by trustee Geoffrey McDonald about what the loans or investments were for.
Despite his cries of crippling financial stress, Page still lives a life of fabulous excess.
The 48-year-old is regularly spotted driving around Newcastle in a luxury Mercedes G Wagon 4WD and Porsche convertible, both worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
By a stroke of good fortune, he and his long-term partner, Newcastle podiatrist and bodybuilder Renay Bull, live in a $1.2 million apartment overlooking Newcastle Beach.
In 2016, Page was forced to sell numerous properties following a Supreme Court order that he had to repay one of his victims $2.8 million – but the apartment was bought by one of Page’s former companies called Parkway One, which is controlled by his ex-wife, Fiona Page.
“In the end I received half a cent in the dollar,” Mr Josifovski said.
“I just don’t understand how with a court judgement on my side that showed everything was fake, everything was made up, why doesn’t someone, somewhere along the way go that this is fraud.”
Page was sentenced to at least eight months’ jail on July 6 after he sold a Sydney friend a cubic zirconia that was meant to be a $85,000 diamond engagement ring.
He has appealed the sentence and will reappear in the Sydney District Court next month.
Know more? firstname.lastname@example.org
Read part three in Tuesday’s Newcastle Herald.