The parents of U.S. Olympic bobsledder Steve Mesler now have two free places to stay in Whistler during the Winter Games, thanks to the community.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mesler said his parents received 12 to 15 e-mails and Facebook messages from people offering them free accommodation after learning the couple had been scammed out of thousands of dollars on a house they thought they had rented.
Now, Ben and Lois Mesler will stay with the Moore family for the first two days of the Olympics. They will stay at another private residence for seven days with a woman who wishes to remain anonymous.
"It is amazing," said two-time Olympian Steve Mesler about the support his parents have received from the Whistler community. "It has shown how great people in Whistler, Vancouver and Canadians are."
Last Sunday, his parents realized they were victims of an accommodation scam when a man that they thought they were renting from, Jason Hartlen, suddenly disappeared.
His parents had posted a seeking-accommodation ad on Rent2010.net.
Hartlen had offered them a place to stay during the Olympics for a total of $8,000. It would sleep 10 to 12 people. The Meslers paid him the deposit.
The final sum for the rent was due last week.
"They paid the sum and they never heard from him again," said Mesler. "They had a phone number that was a working phone number and now it goes straight to voicemail."
On Monday, the site administrator of Rent2010.net, Mark Szekely, received an e-mail from the Meslers outlining what had happened and stating their intention to go to the press. The story broke Monday night.
But Mesler doesn't see this incident as being a black eye for Whistler. Instead he spoke highly of the strangers who offered his family housing.
"These people that are letting my folks and family stay in their houses could be getting - well, we all know how much housing rentals are going for at the Olympics," said Mesler, who is a permanent resident of Canada and lives in Calgary. "These people weren't planning on renting their houses during the Olympics at all."
Paul Sanderson from ResortQuest Whistler was one of the people who stepped forward. His company has helped media from around the world secure 600 rooms in Whistler for the Winter Games. He kept three units in reserve in case something like a leak or flood happened in one of those units.
"When I heard this story, my immediate reaction was that I had two or three units in my back pocket," said Sanderson. "We decided to release one of those and offer it for free to the parents."
Sanderson said his offer to the Meslers for a free one-bedroom unit throughout the Olympics was done as a genuine offer. He is most concerned about the negative impact this could have on Whistler.
"At the end of the day, we just want them to see their son perform in the Olympics. And $8,000 is a lot of money," said Sanderson.
Tourism Whistler also attempted to reach Mesler's parents this week to help them find accommodation.
Jeff McDonald, manager of corporate communications, said that Tourism Whistler wants to encourage people to be careful when booking accommodation on the Internet.
"As we all know, the Internet lends itself well to scams and misrepresentations in all sectors of the economy, not just accommodation," said McDonald.
Meanwhile, Mesler said his parents have sent their bank records into the RCMP. They have been told another couple in their mid-20s was also scammed out of thousands by a man named Hartlen.
The RCMP now have a warrant out for Hartlen in B.C. and Nova Scotia, said Mesler, although Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair from the Whistler RCMP couldn't confirm the warrant.
Mesler hopes his parents' story brings attention to these kinds of scams.
"One rotten apple doesn't spoil the bunch," said Mesler, who arrives in Whistler on Feb. 13 to compete with the U.S. bobsled team. "If anything this shows that there are going to be people all over the world that are going to do what Jason Hartlen did."
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