Preach of trust

Since 1968, the followers of the Reverend Roger Rudin had let him run their lives. But after his sudden death last month, the stunned congregation discovered they'd been pawns in a cruel game of deceit, hypocrisy and kinky sex.

The most well-known of these was the downtown Hotel Westward Ho, which Rudin and church member Thomas Caprino purchased in January 1978 for $2.3 million. Rudin and Caprino had begun investing in properties together nine years earlier and bragged to the Arizona Republic that an evangelist should be able to make millions with prudent investing.

After purchasing the Westward Ho, Rudin convinced Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini to back a plan for the federal department of Housing and Urban Development to convert it to subsidized housing for the elderly. HUD would pay for construction bonds, and Rudin and Caprino would net approximately $1 million in the deal.

But Ernie Bohi, still holding a grudge against the preacher who had made him sell his farm, fed what he knew to the Republic, which splashed an embarrassing story about Rudin on its front page on Christmas Eve 1978, ridiculing the "self-proclaimed prophet" who stood to make millions on a government-funded deal. DeConcini withdrew his support of the project, HUD squashed the deal, and Rudin and Caprino sued the newspaper for $105 million.

More newspaper stories revealed that Rudin had failed to make a single on-time payment on the hotel and had become delinquent on it. Avoiding foreclosure, the partners managed to sell it in 1979 for $5 million (its new owners would eventually turn it into subsidized housing). Rudin and Caprino used their profit to buy the Caravan Inn, a smaller hotel on Van Buren Street, and later dropped their suit against the Republic.

Financial trouble continued to dog Rudin's and Caprino's company, R&C Trust; settlements with the Department of Economic Security over failure to make unemployment insurance payments and liens for failure to pay federal taxes burdened the Caravan Inn. Rudin and Caprino would eventually lose the hotel in a bankruptcy in 1987.

By then, unbeknownst to his faithful flock, Roger Rudin had made a splash in a very different part of Phoenix society.

Wink's. Good for one drink.
--wooden token found in Rudin's effects

"Rudino? That slimy son of a bitch. He scammed a lot of people in the gay community," says Peter, the bartender at Wink's, a gay bar on Seventh Street north of Camelback.

The feeling seems to be general. "Rudino" is well-remembered by the bar's patrons, but not fondly.

Andre, a waiter, still remembers Rudino's drink: "Rum and Diet Coke in a snifter with lots of fruit. Cherries, lemons and limes."

Jeff Ofstedahl, former general manager of Echo Magazine, remembers that Rudino had a fondness for leather. "White studded leather. Leather pants, leather boots, leather jacket. No shirt and a white leather harness. There are some people who look good in leather, but it wasn't Rudino," he says.

Ofstedahl remembers that Rudino seemed to have money to burn. "He threw around a lot of cash. Rode in limos. He hated it when I would refer to his 'Elvis' hairdo.

"The man was insane, as far as I'm concerned. I think he was a habitual liar; I think that's a fair assessment. He was always trying to be something that he wasn't, and always making promises to organizations that he couldn't keep. . . . He was just a con artist as far as I'm concerned," Ofstedahl says.

In 1993, Ofstedahl served on the board of a nonprofit organization attempting to establish a Valley gay and lesbian community center. Rudino convinced the board that he planned to buy the old Blue Cross building, a four-story structure with a tile mosaic that stood at Third Avenue and Indian School, as well as a one-story building next to it.

"Roger proclaimed that he was buying both to turn the four-story building into a gay mecca with a disco, restaurant, country-and-western bar, and a leather dungeon. The one-story building he said would be donated as a community center. We could lease it for a dollar a year."

Negotiations on the deal started, Ofstedahl says, but soon ran into trouble.
"Someone did a background investigation and found problems. Roger made promises and didn't keep any of them. He really screwed the community and put the center back many months," he says. "After that fiasco, Roger dropped out of trying to be an important person in the gay community. But he was still doing the bar scene."

Ofstedahl also remembers that Rudino took out several ads in Echo Magazine for the restaurant Beef Eaters located on West Camelback. "Roger claimed that he was buying Beef Eaters, and he started taking out ads in Echo as a good place for gays to go. I think he honestly believed he would own the restaurant."

Rudino convinced at least one man to quit a good job to become an employee when he took over Beef Eaters. The deal never went through.

Patrick Olivo says the same thing happened to him. A bartender at Apollo's, another gay haunt of Rudino's, Olivo first met the preacher in the early 1980s, when Rudino was telling people he planned to buy the Ramada Inn on West Camelback and "turn it gay."

"'Next month, it will be out of escrow,' he would say, again and again," Olivo says. Strung along by Rudino's promises to make him manager of a restaurant at the hotel, Olivo quit his job at the time and eventually went broke. "He was more of a pathological liar than anything else," he adds.

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