By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Like most friends from any stage of Scott's life, Parker remembers Scott's work ethic and drive. "He was pretty industrious, as far as mowing people's lawns for money or doing different things for money."
During a kickball game in fifth grade, Scott collided with a classmate and broke his thumb. That classmate was Jim Berridge, whose family now runs Berridge Nursery on Camelback Road, less than a quarter-mile from Mortgages Ltd.'s brand-new headquarters.
"Scott and I were always acquaintances — until we ran into each other and I broke his thumb," Berridge says. "Then we started palling around and trick-or-treating together."
Berridge recalls, "His dad really trained Scott as a businessman from a very, very young age. Scott worked his brains out. He just had a little resentment in his voice about it. [His dad] put some extra pressure on Scott."
Scott had two younger sisters, Julie and Lisa. One of his older brothers, Perry, says the sisters knew Scott better than anyone — even up to his death. Lisa could not be reached for comment. But Julie was willing to talk.
"Scott was like my guardian angel," says Julie, a hair stylist who moved back to Phoenix from Chicago a year ago after what, she says, was a persistent request from Scott. "He always looked out for me. Even when mom would say, 'Go to your room. No dinner.' He'd come to the bathroom and sneak me food."
At Central High, Scott was in the bowling and ski clubs. Seth Goldberg, now a financial adviser in Scottsdale, met Coles when the two were 13. They graduated together in 1978 and became fraternity brothers in Sigma Chi at the University of Arizona.
"He started selling T-shirts and, then, in the '70s, those thin gold chains," Goldberg recalls. "He was extremely industrious and very focused on being successful."
After college, Scott's oldest brother, Jeff, became an ER doctor. Perry, the next in line, didn't care to continue the family lending business, either. He works as a jeweler in California. That left Scott. In 1986, he joined his dad's company, Mortgages Ltd., at a salary of $17,000 per year, according a 2006 article in The Jewish News.
"Francine honestly was the best thing that ever happened to him," Julie says.
Scott was 30, married, a father and quickly moving up in his dad's company. Thanks to Chuck Coles' conservative business decisions, Mortgages Ltd. weathered the crisis of the late '80s without losing a cent of investor money — something Scott would brag about to numerous investors for years.
In 1992, Scott became president of the company, with his dad presiding as CEO and chairman of the board. He and Francine later adopted Zach and Samuel "Sammie" (reportedly because the couple had fertility issues, a friend of Francine's says), completing a family of five.
Scott was working hard at his dad's company and making good money — but he was still far from the stratospheric wealth he attained during the final years of his life.
People who knew Scott describe him as a workaholic. Others say he was a philanthropist and a family man. Julie Coles, who lived on and off with Scott for years, says he was as much a perfectionist with his kids as with his business.
"He never cussed and always got me for my mouth. He didn't want his kids talking bad. He was very meticulous about how you [behaved] in front of his children. I could never smoke at his house, near his house. He didn't want his kids around any negative B.S.," she says.
Scott expressed his truest colors around his family, too, Julie says. "Not a whole lot of people saw his quirky side because he was always Mr. Professional," she recalls. "For my parents' 40th anniversary, we all went to Hawaii. It was Polynesian night, and Haley and her father were dressed the same — in coconuts and a grass skirt. That's Scott."
Chuck Coles died in 1998, leaving Scott at the helm of a 35-year-old company. Scott solidified his reputation as a financial genius, fast talker, and honest-handshake dealer. He surrounded himself with good executives.
By the time real estate boomed in the early 2000s, he'd established himself as the man to go to for short-term commercial building loans.
Mike Denning, former president of Mortgages Ltd., says Coles built his reputation by treating investor money as if it were his own.
"Scott had two overriding principles in his life. One, the investors were sacred. They were entrusting him with their money," Denning says. "Second, he would honor the commitments the company made."
J.R. Roren, who describes himself as a friend of Coles', also worked as a loan officer at Mortgages Ltd. "I've never seen anyone talk more, at a higher speed, higher volume. He'd rattle off his spiel at like 90 miles an hour," Roren says.
"It wasn't pretentious or bragging. It's, just, it just oozed out of his blood. He could walk up to a Suns player and just, boom, download the whole script, 90 miles an hour. You'd almost feel tired when he was done."