By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Coles was, by nearly all accounts, an incredibly private individual.
"I asked Zachary if he was aware of any problems his father was having," one of the police officers investigating Scott's death wrote. "He said he did not know of any because [Scott] would not tell him anything."
Before his death, opinions of Coles were split between those who saw him as a generous philanthropist and those who saw him as a ruthless businessman.
About two weeks after his death, Coles' company, Mortgages Ltd., declared bankruptcy.
As the court sifts through what's left of Mortgages Ltd. and what — if anything — is left of the $925 million that investors gave to Coles, the opinions about who he was have grown even further polarized. Some are charging Coles with fraud, racketeering, and criminal loan sharking. Others say he was simply a good man caught in a bad market.
During the real estate boom, Coles and Mortgages Ltd. became household names among Phoenix's wealthiest residents. The company's 45-year history and guaranteed 10 percent return attracted some 2,700 investors who trusted Coles with nearly $1 billion. Now those investors wonder whether they'll ever see their money again.
At the other end of Coles' deals are the huge commercial developers who took loans from him. Many of their projects have stalled, and the biggest developers tell New Times that, before his death, Coles had stopped funding the loans they'd paid for.
As a result, Coles left his mark on the Valley's landscape in the form of half-built projects he vowed to fund — the giant Centerpoint Condominium towers in Tempe, the Hotel Monroe in downtown Phoenix, and Main Street Glendale (which includes new spring training facilities for the Dodgers and White Sox).
Developers from each of those projects say Coles promised them more than $100 million but delivered far less — after they paid the multimillion-dollar fees associated with such loans.
Just as Charles Keating (who didn't kill himself but did serve time in prison) personified the excess and plummet of the savings and loan debacle, Scott Coles' dramatic life and death personify the most recent boom and bust.
Much like Keating, Coles and his high-risk investments weren't monitored by the government (despite his securities license, which many investors put faith in). Former employees tell New Times that Coles took on increasingly risky loans in his final years — even as his loan officers and advisers warned him not to and even as it became clear the market was turning.
Coles' excessive wealth came quickly and as a result of those high risks, which paid handsomely in a bull market.
Coles' stated income in 2003 was $240,000, according to records filed in divorce court. Just three years later, he had spent more than $50 million on mansions and other properties, friends say. Records show Coles bought homes in Aspen, Coronado, Las Vegas, and the Biltmore neighborhood in Phoenix, totaling $35 million. He also bought five condos, for about $1 million each, in the Esplanade high-rise.
Coles also paid millions to have his Rockridge mansion completely remodeled and to have a neighboring mansion demolished to make way for his golf course.
A collection of exotic cars, including a Bentley, Maserati, Porsche, and classic Mercedes, also grew during Coles' final years, as did his use of a private jet and the hiring of salaried personal employees, including around-the-clock security, more than a dozen groundskeepers, two housekeepers, a personal assistant, and an executive assistant.
Even though Coles demanded, in his suicide note, that Ashley be removed fom his final will, she has filed probate documents requesting the estate (as have ex-wife Francine and Coles' children). Ashley Coles did not return messages left with her attorney in regard to this story.
Ex-wife Francine Coles declined comment, except to say, "He was amazing."
"I'd say in the past month, [Scott] looked tired. But look at the industry right now. It's all over," Julie Coles says of her final interactions with her brother. She and Scott had been discussing a stand-up comedy routine in honor of the 10-year anniversary of their dad's death.
"Scott called me the night before he died. He said, 'Why don't you start in the back? Pretend you're a waitress and start messing with people.' I was, like, 'That's a really good idea,'" Julie says.
"He didn't sound sad, but you know what? Scott would never put his problems on anybody. That was one thing about him: He just wouldn't do that."
Scott Martin Coles was born in Chicago on February 28, 1960 — the third of five children. His parents, Charles "Chuck" and Lois Coles, soon moved to Phoenix and started Mortgages Ltd., a simple bridge-lending operation in which Chuck would lend money from a few investors to a single debtor.
The investors knew exactly what real estate they were funding and were given deeds of trust on the property — in case the borrower didn't pay. While the returns weren't enormous, they were consistent and safe.
The Coles family lived in an established, upscale neighborhood near Third Avenue and Orangewood and belonged to Temple Beth Israel.
"We didn't lock our doors. We rode bicycles all over the neighborhood. Everybody knew everybody," says Stephanie Parker, a childhood neighbor. Parker was one year behind Scott at Madison Meadows elementary and middle school and then at Central High School.