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.

At the time, Olivo says, Rudino had a lover named Rick Raney. "Rick was really young and used to enter the wet-jockey-shorts contest at the Camel Club on the west side. That's where they met." What did the young Raney see in the older, flabby Rudino? "Lots of diamonds," Olivo answers, "lots of fancy cars."

Records show that Rudino and Raney shared addresses and bank accounts; congregation members say they only knew that their minister did not live with his wife but were never told where Roger himself lived.

In 1985, John King heard that a man named Rudino wanted to sell a gay bar named the Paradise Lounge. The place was located at Seventh Avenue and Camelback, and Rudino had only recently taken it over from a man named Hoover. King says Rudino told him he was disappointed at how little money the place seemed to bring in, and only weeks after taking it over, convinced King to buy it from him. King did, and renamed the bar Charlie's.

Then, King says, he realized that he'd been ripped off. The bar had not been Rudino's to sell. Hoover still owned the place; Rudino had run it for two months but had never paid Hoover to take possession of it. King angrily confronted Rudino, refused to pay him any more money and took Rudino to court to get back what he'd already spent. (Meanwhile, he had to pay Hoover for the bar; it's embarrassing to admit, he says, that he paid twice for Charlie's.)

To defend himself in the lawsuit, Rudino turned to a young gay lawyer in his first year in practice. Roger Rea says he can't comment on the case, other than to confirm that his side lost and King secured a judgment against Rudino (which Rudino never paid, King says). Rea is willing to comment on the lawsuit's aftermath, when Rudino stiffed him on his $3,000 legal bill.

Rea sued his former client, and he, too, won a judgment which Rudino never paid.

Instead, facing bankruptcy in his real estate business and the judgments in the cases with Rea and King as well as other civil court losses, Rudino vanished with Raney. The year was 1987. For five years, Rea and others say, the gay community heard that Rudino had moved to Oregon, where people who had judgments against him couldn't locate him.

Says Rea about his former client: "Roger Rudin had no honor. No integrity. No principles. And no social redeeming value. He was the ultimate con. I believe Rudin was a psychotic, if not sociopathic, individual. It seemed like he was simply evil. Evil in mind, body and spirit."

In 1992, after the judgments against him had expired (Rea says he would have had to ask for a renewal of the penalty, and decided that it wasn't worth the trouble; he assumes Rudin still would have ignored it), Roger Rudino made his grand reentrance on the Phoenix gay scene.

Olivo says that when Rudino moved back from Oregon, Rick Raney was dying from AIDS. Olivo claims to have witnessed Raney's death at a local hospital.

Rudino later lived with a man named Michael P. Watkins, another man very much his junior, says Jeff Ofstedahl. "Michael saw the dollar signs," he says.

After the debacle with the four-story gay mecca, Ofstedahl remembers Rudino disappearing from the gay scene again, this time in 1995. Watkins went away as well, he says, after being prosecuted on a federal drug charge. Federal Bureau of Prisons records indicate that Watkins was sentenced to 48 months in prison for conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute marijuana. Rudino himself pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine in 1995 and was sentenced to three years' probation.

Three years later, Rudino's flamboyance is still remembered well at his old watering holes. And so are his stories. They come back in a rush to Patrick Olivo, who shakes his head at Rudino's promises that never came true:

"I remember that when Rick Raney died, the two of them were planning to go around the world. So Rudino told us he'd take Dan, my lover, and me on the trip instead, and we'd stay at Sophia Loren's villa. Sophia Loren's villa! That's another one that just hit me."

It has been difficult, to say the least, to sort out fact from fiction in this case. Your response to the above monitoring issues was thorough, but confusing, since for every bit of information we have, you provide a bit of counter information refuting our findings. . . . It is difficult to accept a refutation of charges if there are so many that occur so frequently.

---HUD eviction letter to Rudin

Rudin pulled some sort of magic act in the years 1987 to 1992.
During that time, the gay community in Phoenix believed that Rudin was living with his lover Rick Raney in Oregon to escape financial obligations in Arizona.

Betty Jo White, Rudin's Oregon attorney, says that during those years Rudin did live in Silverton, Oregon, where he had bought a house and other properties. Also, Rudin's papers contain numerous bills addressed to both himself and Rick Raney at Oregon addresses.

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