By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Around the time that Curtis Frisby got his divorce, around the time that Neal Frisby's health problems were beginning to overwhelm his family, a wide receiver named Robert Brooks was retiring from the NFL.
Brooks was 29 years old, and he was at that odd place common to pro athletes: He hadn't even reached the prime of his life, and he was already too old for the job he'd spent his life training to do.
But Brooks, a slender man with soap-opera-ready looks, had a plan for his second act. He'd come to know Christ as a Green Bay Packer under the tutelage of the late, great Reggie White, and even before injuries cut short his football career, he felt God's call in a vision no less specific than the one that brought Neal Frisby to Arizona in 1968.
He would have a worldwide Christian ministry.
It would generate enough income to pay for itself.
And someone would give him a building to use as its headquarters.
He'd been living in Arizona for years, after falling in love with the place during a training visit in college. So in 2002, three years after his retirement and an aborted attempt to return to the NFL, Brooks filed paperwork with the Arizona secretary of state to begin "Men of God Ministries."
And then he began casting around for a building.
Sam Meranto, the self-help/weight-loss guru, got to know Brooks during this time. Brooks even recorded a pair of meditations for Meranto, focusing on "bringing the power of God into your life" and "health and confidence through God."
But Meranto says he was shocked and a bit dismayed when Brooks asked if he had a building he'd like to donate.
Still, it wasn't long after that Meranto introduced Brooks to his old friend Curtis Frisby. "His family owns the biggest church in Phoenix," Meranto told Brooks.
And then Curtis Frisby introduced Brooks to his father.
The old man was in the hospital.
"My first impression," Brooks recalls, "is that this is a man who God had told that he was about to depart. And there were some things he intended to make right before he did."
But what happened next shocked just about everybody.
"The first thing I knew, Robert Brooks owned the church," Meranto says, adding that Brooks also lured away his "top salesman" now an assistant pastor at the cathedral.
Indeed, records show that within two months, Neal Frisby signed off on paperwork giving the entire acreage on Shea Boulevard house, cathedral, and a two-acre parcel that could be split off for retail to Brooks.
Five months after that, Neal Frisby died.
It's hard to sort out exactly what happened in the final months of Neal Frisby's life, simply because everyone's story contradicts the others.
Robert Brooks, for instance, says he distinctly remembers driving by the Capstone Cathedral long before he'd ever heard of Neal Frisby. He had visions, he says, of himself standing in the pulpit, preaching.
But Sam Meranto, who introduced Brooks to the Frisbys, is insistent that Brooks had no idea what the Capstone Cathedral was until he got involved.
And while Curtis Frisby insists that his father only met Brooks a few times, Brooks claims they met repeatedly, including holding weekly meetings during the "transition" period after Neal signed the papers.
There are also endless theories on those papers. Leroy Jenkins, who was in litigation with the Frisbys at the time and probably not in a position to know, says Brooks took a blank sheet, asked Neal to sign, and then typed a deed around it.
But that conveniently disregards the fact that all the trustees for Frisby's ministry signed off on the deal, too.
Indeed, Frisby had a lawyer to safeguard his interests. He also had his board complete with his brother Gerald, who managed to drive away the formidable Leroy Jenkins without too much trouble. It's hard to think he couldn't handle Brooks if he wanted to.
(While declining an interview, Gerald says he's supporting Brooks. He blames Curtis Frisby for trying to stir up publicity for himself and the book he's writing about Neal, a project Gerald openly dismisses. "He's writing this book about Neal Frisby, but he doesn't have the authorized version.")
Even Curtis Frisby, when pressed, admits that his father probably did want to give Brooks the property at one point. But, Curtis insists, Neal changed his mind soon after.
"I made a mistake," Curtis claims his father said. "I don't know how I signed it away, but I made a mistake."
Curtis also believes that Brooks didn't receive the gift graciously. After all, he made Gerald's scroll-mailing operation leave and he had the house torn down.
Brooks did give each brother a portion from the sale of two acres sold to development. But, as Curtis points out, Brooks was a former NFL player with a $974,000 house in north Phoenix. He didn't have to take a cut for himself, even though he was certainly within his rights to do so.
More than $500,000 from the sale also went to settle Leroy Jenkins' claim against the ministry, as Jenkins confirms. And both Jenkins and Curtis claim that part of Jenkins' settlement required Brooks to cut Neal's sons a check from the land sale.