Best of Phoenix 2014: Legend City / The Legend of Scott Coles

Make a bathroom friend in a bar on Mill one Saturday night in Tempe and you might hear the urban legend about the developer who threw himself off the West Sixth building before it was finished. Versions of the rumor generally include mention of the Great Recession, the dire state of the finances of the project, and a gruesome gesture toward the top of the now-fully operational high rise. It's a long way down to the roundabout driveway resembling a bull's eye.

The story might give you chills on your way to Rúla Búla for Pub Trivia, but is it true? Not exactly, although there was, in fact, a suicide related to the development. The true story behind this tale is gnarlier than the version that lingers over downtown Tempe.

In 2008, deep in the throes of the Great Recession, Mortgages Ltd. CEO Scott Coles had collected nearly $1 billion from investors in the Phoenix area for large-scale development projects, including what was then called Centerpoint Condominiums on Sixth Street. Coles once had instilled confidence in his investors, but the returns on their money weren't coming through, and the project fell into deep debt. Rumors began swirling among investors that Mortgages Ltd. was broke and that the FBI may be involved.

Was he a classic Ponzi scam artist? Coles, who once paid $375,000 to have lunch with Donald Trump, was known as much for his opulent lifestyle as he was for his risky ventures. Before the tension among those awaiting repayment boiled over and the investigations could follow the money trail (back to Coles' multiple mansions, his cars, his lavish parties with attendees like Ludacris and Jenny McCarthy), Coles donned a tuxedo, took a cocktail of pills, and got into bed with a cardboard cutout of his wife. His kids found him dead in his bedroom surrounded by a makeshift shrine to her, including photos and fresh-cut red roses.

So where did the first version come from? The rumor about the jump may be a conflation of another infamous suicide story in the neighborhood: that of renown Cuban artist Pedro Álvarez, who leaped from the fifth-floor window of his hotel room at the Twin Palms Hotel on Apache Boulevard just five days after the opening of his show "Landscape in the Fireplace: Paintings by Pedro Álvarez" at the Arizona State University Art Museum in April of 2004.

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