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.

Noting that Rudin had admitted to arresting officers his recreational use of cocaine, probation officer Norman Hall concluded: "The circumstances surrounding the present offenses suggest the defendant is heavily involved in the use of drugs and possibly committing other crimes in order to facilitate his addiction. This officer finds his explanation as to his actions in the offenses somewhat questionable and it is felt the defendant is in denial of a serious substance abuse problem."

Church secretary Helen Robertson, long Rudin's most trusted lieutenant, recruited members of the congregation to write letters about their admiration for Rudin. Stevens and Lucas say they were told the letters would be used to help the minister land a part-time job. They had no idea, they say, that the letters instead were being submitted to assure that Rudin not get prison time. He received a three-year sentence of probation.

It wasn't the first time that Robertson seemed to help Rudin keep a darker truth from the congregation. If no one in the congregation knew where Rudin lived, Stevens and Lucas say, Robertson must have known, at least to make sure that Rudin received important legal documents.

"Helen was the piano player. She never did like me," says John. "She would get up and talk about how Rudin was the prophet, how we couldn't let him down, that he'd done so much for us. She would tell people to give wedding rings and things for the prophet. That's when I thought, 'Whoa,' this is beginning to look like a cult to me."

This past March, when Patricia Rudin died of congestive heart failure, it was Robertson who refused to let Stevens and Lucas enter the funeral home so that they could pay their respects, they say. Not long after that, Stevens watched Robertson throw out Rudin's papers into a garbage bin behind the church.

"We're under a little reorganization," Robertson says of the church now that Rudin himself has died. (The county medical examiner reports that Rudin's cause of death was atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.) "We need a new chapel. Our nonprofit status has expired, so we're going for status on that."

Asked about Rudin's double life and his involvement with the gay community, Robertson says, "It doesn't matter what kind of life he led. He did counseling to many gays. He was involved in the homosexual community. He also counseled Hollywood stars."

Church members say that "counseling gays" was something Rudin claimed to do a lot of recently, but he never admitted to the congregation that he was gay himself. As for Hollywood stars, Rudin told the congregation that he provided psychic readings to Jim Carrey, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and others. He offered no proof of it.

"We went through a lot of hard times together," Robertson says. "I saw the truth of what he was preaching. It helped me through a lot in life, no matter what his personal battles were with people. He made some bad business investments. Big deal. Did people have faults? Yeah. But are the things people are saying about him true? No. He's never harmed a soul.

"We're not a cult," she says. "If you don't like what we're teaching, you're free to leave. In fact, we'd prefer that you do."

Asked about finding sex toys in her minister's office, Robertson answered, "I don't know what you're talking about."

Robertson agreed to meet with New Times to go over the Rudin documents, then changed her mind, saying she didn't like that ex-members were speaking to the paper. Several other current members contacted for the story refused to comment.

After Rudin's death, his body was claimed by a brother from Iowa. Before he could retrieve it, however, Ruth Stevens and her brother-in-law invented a ruse to convince the funeral home holding Rudin to let them in to see the body. Stevens says she wanted to see with her own eyes that the prophet had actually died. She says until she did, she couldn't help assuming the "death" was simply a ploy by Rudin to get out of financial problems.

She confirmed that Rudin himself lay in cold storage, and added that it was a shock, since she had been conditioned to believe that the flamboyant preacher had been immortal.

She says she has no doubt about his present address.

Contact Tony Ortega at his online address: tortega@newtimes.com

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