It was February 2, 2008, and the sun had barely set on the usually quiet streets that snake up Camelback Mountain. The bump of rapper Ludacris' music was in the air, and a line of short-skirted, high-heeled girls clomped off a tour bus — barely avoiding another bus as it coasted past.
The girls and their guys — most wearing designer jeans and starched shirts — swarmed through the pristine neighborhood as if it were Old Town Scottsdale on New Year's Eve.
The houses in the southern foothills of Camelback tend to be of the low-slung ranch-style variety, old-money affairs with no need to show off. In the most recetnt economic boom, though, the nouveau riche began tearing them down to the studs, replacing them with monuments to their wealth.
No one symbolized this better than Scott Coles, the flamboyant 48-year-old millionaire and president of Mortgages Ltd., the self-proclaimed oldest and largest private lender in Arizona.
Even before this year, Coles had a reputation for throwing crazy Super Bowl parties at his 20,000-square-foot compound on Rockridge Road, a gargantuan spread that covers about six lots and sticks out among both the old and new money on the side of the mountain.
Coles' Rockridge Estates features an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, two pools, rivers and waterfalls, and manicured flowers.
His 2008 "Best Damn Super Bowl Party" blew his previous parties away. Tickets for the multiple-day affair cost between $300 and $5,000, and the merrymaking included Playboy playmate Jenny McCarthy, Ludacris, and comedian Chris Rock, as well as a swimsuit/lingerie fashion show, open bar and "over-the-top opulence," according to its organizers, a private party coordinator called The Opium Group.
The party was so loud and drew so many revelers that, by the third night, about 50 of Coles' neighbors demanded to meet with him about the ruckus.
When his neighbors confronted him, Coles warned that his Rockridge property would fall apart if he weren't around to pay the landscaping crew, according to a neighbor who asked not to be named. It seemed like a bizarre comment at the time, given Cole's supposed status at the top of the multimillion-dollar lending industry.
"[Scott] came to the meeting very subdued and said it wouldn't happen again," the neighbor recalls. "At the meeting, he said, 'I don't understand why you all aren't pleased to have such a beautiful property. If anything happened to me, you would see how difficult it is to maintain.'"
Just four months later, those neighbors understood what Coles was hinting at.
Around 8 a.m. on June 2, Scott Coles' housekeeper, Laura Young, pulled past the custom gates at the edge of Rockridge Estates. She used her employee code to enter Coles' nine-car garage and west wing.
Coles was known for his early-morning workouts and healthful breakfast shakes, so Young thought it odd when she peaked into the massive master bedroom and saw him still lying in bed. She figured he was sleeping.
Young told the other full-time housekeeper to work quietly. Soon Zach Coles, 15, arrived home from his cousins' home, where he'd spent the night. Zach, the second of Coles' three children, walked into the master bedroom to find his dad lying with the white comforter pulled up to his neck, dead — a shrine to his second wife, Ashley Coles, 26, surrounding him.
Zach shouted, "Dad, Dad!" Then, according to the police report, he ran out to the playroom and dialed 911.
At the foot of Coles' king-size bed, a framed print read, "Ashley, will you marry me?" Two wedding-photo albums sat nearby, and "on the table at the foot of the bed was a silver-colored tray with a jar-type candle which was burning. Fresh cut roses were in vases on the tray," according to police descriptions of the scene.
Coles' body, dressed in his black tuxedo, complete with cream shirt, vest, and cufflinks, was cold when officers arrived. Next to Coles were a brown teddy bear and a life-size cardboard cutout of Ashley.
Just outside the French doors that lead to Scott Coles' master bedroom suite, a small staircase winds up to his second-floor office. There, officers found his last will and testament, dated June 1, 2008, witnessed by Zach Coles.
He left everything to his three kids and first wife, according to the police report, along with a document indicating that Ashley had told Scott she no longer wanted to be married to him.
It's pretty obvious that Coles killed himself with an overdose. On July 21, the autopsy report confirmed the details: oxycodone, Ambien, and alcohol. (Phoenix Police say they have declared the death a suicide and concluded their investigation.)
But despite his somewhat public profile — businessman, philanthropist, longtime Phoenician — very few people know who Scott Coles actually was. New Times reviewed hundreds of public records and interviewed more than two dozen family members, friends, and employees of Coles for this story (including the first in-depth interviews with Scott's sister Julie, as well as a friend of Ashley's who described Scott's courting the 22-year-old, whom he met in Las Vegas and married in 2006).
The portrait that emerges is one of a troubled but driven boy, whose charm, intelligence, and work ethic made him one of the Valley's most mysterious tycoons. The interviews also revealed that Coles grew more troubled and detached — from both his family and co-workers — during the final years of his life.
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.
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.
Scott married Francine Shostack after they met on blind date, and on January 21, 1990, Francine gave birth to Haley Coles, a girl.
"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."
As Suns players and other notable moneymakers invested in Mortgages Ltd., word spread. Even NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar invested $100,000. But most of the capital came straight from the heart of Phoenix, and most investors put in between $500,000 and $1 million. As they saw consistent 10 percent returns, some mortgaged their homes at 5 or 6 percent so they could pocket more earnings.
In the late '90s, Coles bought the home of former governor and real estate casualty Fife Symington (incidentally on the same side of Camelback Mountain as Charles Keating's monument to wealth and collapse, The Phoenician resort).
Symington's former residence was nothing special; it had been the home of his wife Ann's parents, and embodied the low-key vibe of a neighborhood with great views and nothing to prove.
But Coles changed all that. After he remodeled the entire house and guesthouse, he started on the neighboring lots.
Roren remembers golfing at Rockridge Estates, shortly after Coles bought a nearby home — just so he could tear it down. Roren says Coles hit a shot and casually mentioned, "I just bought the neighbor's house. Gave him what he wanted. No big deal.
"He looked at the clubhouse at a nice golf resort, and was just, like, 'I wanna build one of those.'"
Roren says the larger of the two pools at the place is 300,000 gallons, making it the largest residential swimming pool in Arizona.
In 2003, just as Coles' wealth was really beginning to accumulate, he and Francine divorced.
"His first wife left and said, 'Our lives suck. We have no life.' He was just stunned because he thought he was happy," says a close family friend who asked to be unnamed.
From many accounts, over the next five years, Coles grew wealthier but increasingly isolated and eccentric. Older brother Perry says Scott lived his best years before his extreme wealth.
"He was a pretty fun guy, probably more before he got to the level he did," Perry says. "Once he got to the level he did, that changes everybody. No matter what anyone says, money does things to everybody. And it's usually not good. Some people can control it. Some people can't. It overcomes them."
Court records show Scott and Francine's divorce was finalized in November 2003. The same month, Scott met Ashley Hill, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Minnesota who was working as a hostess at the high-end Aureole restaurant at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
A lot of people in town know Francine, who has kept the last name Coles and remains active in the local Jewish community, but few apparently know Ashley.
The two married on December 2, 2006, at Rockridge, in a very small ceremony of close friends and family. (Ali Khan, Coles' neighbor and reportedly his closest friend, served as the best man. Khan was unavailable for comment for this story. His wife, Lisa, who also declined comment, says he has been in Dubai since shortly after Coles' death.)
A close friend of Ashley's described her relationship with Scott Coles. The friend requested anonymity, saying Ashley's attorneys don't want her or her friends talking to reporters.
"She met Scott through a VIP host that she was friends with that was taking care of Scott at the time," the friend says, adding that Scott pursued Ashley.
The friend says that Ashley was unsure of Scott at first because he was twice her age.
"She was like, 'I don't know who this guy is. He seems to be nice.' It was an older guy, so you'd think [he was] kind of creepy. Through a series of get-togethers in Las Vegas she got to know him more and more."
Ashley moved to Phoenix in 2004 and dated Scott on and off for two years. The two did not live together until they were married, the friend says.
Even Julie Coles, who once referred to Ashley as "his stupid little wife," acknowledged that Ashley made her brother happy.
"He just looked like a little kid in a candy store," Julie says. "Ashley was somebody young and vibrant. I'm glad she came along because it seemed like all he did was work, work, work. She added to his life that there was more than work."
Another close friend of Scott's says, "Ashley was more a sweet Midwestern girl than a gold digger," but adds that she was "bored shitless."
"Poor Ashley. The man just talked business the whole time. Ashley was 25 and very sweet, but none of us there could have been the most wonderful people for her to talk to. For Scott, it was all about projects and real estate and business and securities licenses," she says.
"He was just a nice person who lived in spreadsheets."
Also during 2004, Coles' mother, Lois, passed away. Her death had a significant effect on Scott, Julie says. She wonders whether a lack of approval from their mother was behind Scott's superhuman drive and behind his death too.
"I just truly believe your whole life you need that motherly, unconditional love, no matter what. When [Mom] died . . . It screwed us up even more. You no longer have that person to prove yourself to. So it's like, 'Who am I doing this for?'" Julie says.
Another of Scott's friends suggests that Scott had a rough relationship with his mother and projected his need for approval onto Ashley.
"Clearly, he was proving himself," the friend says of Ashley. "Then she left, and he felt like he'd failed. He had no one to prove himself to anymore. His mother was dead. His new wife left, even after he gave her everything. And his business was in the tank, too."
Between 2004 and 2006, Scott pursued Ashley and became the flamboyant millionaire whom many remember.
"He kind of turned into a wanna-be rock star there for a while," says Mike Denning, former president of Mortgages Ltd.
Coles' vacations included skiing in Chile (where one unsubstantiated rumor suggests he was preparing an off-shore hideaway), gambling in Las Vegas, and flying in his private jet to his numerous other estates.
Coles' favorite restaurant was T. Cook's at The Royal Palms. With his family, he often ate at more plebeian Biltmore-area restaurants: Postino and California Pizza Kitchen.
Scott's perfectionism surfaced in every facet of his life, according to friends. He could be golfing on his course and suddenly call his groundskeeper to have his flowers freshened.
During a dinner party at Rockridge in 2007, Coles reportedly lost his temper with a housekeeper who spilled a drink on a tablecloth, according to another acquaintance of Coles.
Coles stormed into the kitchen, grabbed a club soda, and started scrubbing the stain himself, the acquaintance says.
He was also a regular at black-tie fundraisers and upper-class galas. His attendance at those events has been touted in most stories about him.
Now, the investors who dumped their retirement and home equity into Mortgages Ltd. don't feel as cheery about Scott's big-ticket purchases and generous donations.
"What's been bothersome is all this talk in the news about Scott giving money to everyone, being so generous to the boys club. Well, he was also living in an $11 million home," says Sidney Madison, one of numerous investors who could lose their entire retirement and life savings in Mortgages Ltd.'s bankruptcy.
Another investor, Barbara Porter, 62, nearly withdrew her investment as Scott Coles' behavior grew more flamboyant. She had invested with Chuck Coles back in the 1970s — when Scott was still running around the playground at Madison Meadows.
"I thought several times, maybe I should take it out," says Porter, adding that she's broke because of the company's bankruptcy.
Porter, a widow, has put her Gilbert home up for sale and is now hunting for a job to support herself and her disabled adult daughter. She invested every penny of her savings and retirement (hundreds of thousands of dollars) into Mortgages Ltd.
Three weeks before Scott's death, Porter heard rumor of troubles at the company and spoke with Scott personally. "Scott said, 'None of this is our fault. A lot of companies aren't paying what they owe us.'"
But Porter disagreed, telling him, "Yes, Scott, it was your fault, because you loaned them the money."
She said Coles always told her that he "only loaned 50 cents on the appraised dollar."
Porter and other investors have since learned that Coles' recent loans were not made at 50 cents on the dollar. In fact, some properties are worth far less than what the debtors owe.
"Scott talked so fast and over the top of my head. I'm sure he knew exactly what he was saying, but I never was impressed," Porter says.
As Scott pursued Ashley and lived the high life, he was also busy transforming Mortgages Ltd. from a modest and profitable operation to a cash cow that churned out surreal amounts of money.
Scott devised numerous ways to make more money on both investors and borrowers, both coming and going. He also leveraged his growing reputation and lavish estates to court investors and borrowers.
It took Coles about eight years to convert his dad's conservative, 35-year-old business into a high-risk machine.
Friends joked that he would end up owning all the real estate in Arizona.
As Coles took on increasingly risky projects, his advisers cautioned him to be more careful. But Coles didn't listen, sources say, particularly not recently.
"Scott became extremely autocratic," says a former Mortgages Ltd. employee. "All the loans, everything, were made strictly by him. Even though loan officers would recommend against approval, he would go ahead and approve them. There wasn't a single officer I know of in the company that agreed with the leveraging and the concentration in the portfolio that Scott was pursuing."
In November 2005, Coles' right-hand man of 13 years, Jim Cordello, left the company. He was the first of many executives who came and left with unusually high turnover during the past three years.
Cordello did not return calls for this story, but in a 2006 court deposition, he said he left Mortgages Ltd. because Coles verbally promised him a year-end bonus — but broke his word.
That's not the only promise Coles broke, business associates say. Investors and borrowers alike say that Coles' promises grew bigger and more impossible as his company unraveled.
"He was a very high-profile guy, well-known and wealthy," says Rick Burton, a multimillionaire developer and principal of Rightpath Development.
Through a series of wine-and-dine meetings at the Rockridge house, on Coles' golf course, and around town, Coles convinced Burton and his two partners (one of whom is Danny Hendon of Danny's Family Carwashes) that he could provide a $190 million loan faster than any competitor.
"We relied upon what this guy told us. We could have gone with a more traditional lender. He sort of courted us and induced us, saying, 'I'm your guy. We're your company. We can provide up to $190 million,'" Burton says.
Coles even wrote a letter to Bank of America, guaranteeing the $190 million for Rightpath. But after Rightpath paid millions in up-front loan fees, Coles was unable to fund the entire loan.
Rightpath attorney Chris Reeder has since scrutinized Coles' final years of business. "It's just really in the last three years he got greedy. Greed took over, and it consumed him. He started doing things he shouldn't have done, making promises he shouldn't have and making factual representations that were wrong," Reeder says.
"It's also become clear that when his senior management brought this to him, he ignored them. That's why a lot of his senior management left the company."
By the middle of 2007, Coles was making risky loans on projects way bigger than Mortgages Ltd. had ever funded. By the end of the year, those loans caught up with him. Some developers stopped making their payments. Then an even bigger problem arose: Coles ran out of money to fund the loans he'd committed to (and already collected multimillion-dollar fees on).
Most those projects are now stalled because they don't have the money to proceed. (Rightpath's Main Street Glendale is one exception, Burton says, because he and Hendon have enough resources to keep the project afloat.)
As Coles grew more desperate for money, he increased the hidden fees on existing loans, Reeder says. In one case, he charged a minority congregation church $2.5 million to pay off a $1 million loan — even though it had never missed a mortgage payment.
Reeder says Coles then tried to charge the same excessive fees and interest rates (63 percent APR) to bigger clients, and that's where he got in trouble. One record shows Coles charged Rightpath $3 million for a simple transaction that normally costs about $1,000.
"For years, he would go beat up on these little guys. His fatal mistake was trying to get into the big leagues," Reeder says.
"A Rightpath Limited group is not going to be intimidated by those kind of games. He started playing those games with people with the resources to fight it," adds Reeder, who's now pursuing Mortgages Ltd. under RICO statutes for racketeering and fraud.
"That's tantamount to loan sharking. It was the sledgehammer that broke the camel's back," Reeder says of the $3 million fee. "We feel it's a strong racketeering case."
Even as Coles struggled to fund loans and find investors to keep his machine running, he maintained his lavish lifestyle.
In July 2007, he purchased more than $31 million in real estate from Michael Peloquin — even though Peloquin owed Mortgages Ltd. and its investors more than $70 million.
County records show that acquisition included a $10.1 million Biltmore mansion next door to another $11.3 million mansion Coles purchased (both are separate from Rockridge Estates).
Coles certainly wasn't cutting back on expenses at Rockridge, either. It was during late 2007 that he decided to expand his nine-hole golf course to 18 holes.
Travis Marting, who designed and built the Rockridge golf course, says, "We pretty much worked on it and finished the nine-hole in 2007. He decided to make it an 18-hole in the second half of 2007," Marting says, adding that he deeply respected Coles.
J.R. Roren remembers when he learned that Coles had never even played golf before building his own course.
"When he first got the course, he just was horrible. I said, 'Scott, you're a horrible golfer.' He said, 'I've never played golf before.' To the day he died, he'd never played golf on a real course," Roren says.
One summer night in 2007, Roren's and Coles' families were eating at California Pizza Kitchen at Biltmore Fashion Park. Coles suddenly decided to fly both of their families to Aspen on his private jet the next morning.
Looking back on his years of friendship, Roren says, "He almost was kind of childlike in a way. I sometimes look at the situation, and it's almost like this was a very high-powered man, but when it came to his relationship with Ashley and things like that, the feedback I got was that he was almost immature when it came to romance and things like that. That was kind of odd."
In December 2007, Coles personally borrowed $6 million from Mortgages Ltd. To this day, attorneys who've examined Coles' finances can't figure out what he did with that money.
As Coles' business and personal life crumbled, he maintained his busy philanthropic calendar.
On February 7 of this year, he and Ashley attended the Arizona Kidney Foundation's "Dancing with the Stars" fundraiser. Coles donated a vacation package to raffle. It included transportation to and from, and stays at, his $10 million Aspen home, his Las Vegas condo, his Coronado Island home and another home in the Bahamas (New Times has been unable to confirm whether Coles actually owned it), as well as the use of a new Rolls-Royce and chauffeur.
Ashley, who had recently taken up dancing as a hobby, donned a pink costume and performed a samba for the event. Like many participants, she was given a cardboard cutout of herself. That's the cutout that was found in bed with Scott's body on June 2, friends of the family say.
On March 14, Coles paid $40,000 for a portrait of Shaquille O'Neal at a Phoenix Suns Charities dinner hosted by Queen Latifah, even as Mortgages Ltd. failed to fund loan commitments.
Also in March, Coles personally introduced NFL legend Mike Ditka at the Jewish Federation's annual Jewish Men's Night Out. Seth Goldberg says it was the last time he saw his high school friend.
In May, another friend saw Scott and Ashley at the ritzy Derby Day fundraiser at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa for the homeless and domestic violence shelter Homeward Bound.
Looking back, the friend remembers Scott talking about both Ashley and his struggling business just weeks before he killed himself.
"He told me, 'Ashley has made me so happy.' She did make him smile."
But Scott was also concerned about his investors. "I said, 'Scott, you look worried. Are you okay? He said, 'I'm working very, very hard, and I'm not sleeping much.' I said, 'Sometimes during these downturns, you have to lose a little money, but if you communicate with your investors, it will be okay.'
"He said, 'I'm gonna get these people their money back,'" the friend recalls. It was the last time she talked to him.
During the final months of his life, Coles didn't eat lunch on workdays.
This summer, there have been no lavish parties at Rockridge Estates. On a recent July morning, parts of the golf course are browning. Other greens are shaggy and overgrown. The house is dark inside. Branches and sticks from a recent monsoon litter the drive to the nine-car garage.
The property isn't for sale, though one groundskeeper says the family will likely sell it. Up the street, the home of Mortgages Ltd. senior vice president Phil Sollomi is listed for $4 million. One of Coles' Biltmore mansions is already listed too, for $11.5 million.
Across town in Gilbert, a more modest house is for sale. It's the home of Barbara Porter, the 62-year-old widowed investor who says she's now completely broke.
She owns the home outright; her late husband built it. But Porter says she'll have to sell her home to support herself. As upset as she feels, she also says the Coles family served her well for 30 years.
"I think the problem was greed. We're all greedy. That's why my money was there, because he paid 10 percent instead of 4 percent. I'm greedy, too, so I can't say I'm a better person. Everybody in town got caught up in this stupid appraising and spending. Now everybody's upside down."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.