Dallas Observer Story
Matt Pulle-Cover Story/Main Feature
A B-actress, computer mayhem and families feudin’! Making a movie with your rich friends is just courting disaster.
By Matt Pulle
Article Published Sep 14, 2006
Meet the parents: Tom and Debbie Rhodus thought the Saabs were their friends until they called the cops on the Rhoduses’ youngest son.
Drama queen: Linda Gray is not a victim, but she played one on the TV show Dallas.
In real life, she plotted to throw Keith Rhodus out of her business partnership.
There was a time, before the lawsuits, the criminal complaints and the machinations of a has-been actress, when the Saabs and the Rhoduses were friends, although what they had in common besides Park Cities addresses is a mystery. Tom and Debbie Rhodus are both attorneys, nearly as intelligent as they are genteel. Even when they swear, and the drama in their lives lately gives them plenty of reason, they sound as solemn and sober as a commencement speaker at Harvard.
The Saabs came to Dallas after a floundering real estate venture led to an ugly bankruptcy in New Orleans in which a federal judge criticized them for making misleading financial statements. After a few lean years in Dallas, the Saabs reinvented themselves as an enterprising business family.
Anthony Saab had a thriving financial services company that helped New Mexico and Mississippi manage their money. His wife, Elaine, aided her husband’s business while launching a partnership that blended jewelry and movie production in the same business plan. Her cohort from the start was her friend Linda Gray, the actress best known–perhaps only known–for playing Sue Ellen Ewing on the prime-time soap Dallas.
Nearly three years ago, the Saabs and Keith Rhodus, the youngest son of Tom and Debbie, flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to secure financing for a promising screenplay called The Yentas of Sunrise Lakes that the Saabs’ daughter, Emily, had discovered. The Saabs’ financial services company, CMG, was a broker for the state treasurer’s office, which took the lead in offering incentives to filmmakers who shot their movies in New Mexico. Hoping to parlay their connections to fund their movie project, Elaine Saab and Rhodus met with Robert Vigil, the state treasurer of New Mexico. Midway through their discussions, a strange-looking man sauntered into Vigil’s office as if it were his own, Rhodus recalls. Wearing a bolo tie that brought attention to his scarred, leathery face, the man kicked up his boots on a round wood table and pretended to sniff Elaine as if he were a dog and she a sliver of meat. You smell like money, he said with a scowl.
After the meeting ended, Saab told Rhodus that she needed to talk to Vigil alone. She walked back into his office with an envelope tucked under her arm. After a few minutes, she returned without the envelope.
“‘It’s about money, Keith,'” he says she replied when he asked her what was going on. “‘What, do you think these people do business with us because they like us?'”
Rhodus brushed off Saab’s remark. That’s just like her, always exaggerating, concocting drama and intrigue where there was none, he thought. Besides, Rhodus wasn’t going to worry about what might have happened between Saab and Vigil. They had a movie to produce.
But two years and many lawyers later, Rhodus felt differently. Elaine Saab had filed a criminal complaint against him for the high crime of checking her business-related e-mails. The partnership was irrevocably fractured, his family’s friendship with the Saabs dismantled, the option on the screenplay a distant memory. So he consulted with his attorney David Finn, who suggested he call the FBI. In September 2005, Robert Vigil was indicted on public corruption charges. Prosecutors allege that Vigil, along with his predecessor Michael Montoya, participated in an elaborate kickback scheme in which they solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from the state’s outside money managers. But Rhodus knew they didn’t have the whole story, and now he had a compelling reason to fill them in.
Rhodus told them of the man with the bolo tie. He mentioned the envelope. And he had a few things to say about Elaine Saab, who, he discovered, was no stranger to authorities. They already had pictures of Saab along with her friend Linda Gray that Vigil’s secretary had taken.
Not long after meeting with Rhodus, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico added another allegation against the former state treasurer:
“Mr. Vigil extorted funds under the color of official right from Elaine Saab and others in return for his assistance in obtaining state funding for a possible motion picture project,” read the federal pleading. “Mr. Vigil accepted the funds knowing that they were offered to affect his official conduct.”
Prosecutors flew Rhodus to Albuquerque to testify in Vigil’s trial last spring, which resulted in a hung jury after a lone juror opted against a conviction. Rhodus never took the stand, but prosecutors wanted him there in case they needed him. A new trial is under way.
For the last three years, Keith Rhodus, 29, has served as a largely unwitting protagonist in a bizarre and bitter drama that nearly tore his life apart. Even now, it’s hard to understand how the two families’ relationship spiraled so far out of control, growing so toxic that they could never, under any imaginable circumstance, resume their friendship. After a business dispute in which Rhodus accessed work-related e-mails Elaine Saab had been writing about him, she filed a criminal complaint. That charge triggered an exhaustive investigation by the police department and Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, forcing Rhodus to go through a bevy of high-priced lawyers to elude what would have been a career-killing felony indictment.
The making of the movie is often more interesting than the movie itself. The Rhoduses and the Saabs’ quixotic campaign to produce a screenplay wound up wrecking their longstanding friendship while managing to touch on an odd lot of characters, from state officials in New Mexico to prominent Dallas lawyers. Rich people behave just like everyone else; they spin epic conflicts out of slight issues and hold grudges for so long that even they may forget what triggered the unpleasantness. But wealthy people such as the Saabs and Rhoduses have friends in high places–the sort whose help can turn a small business dispute into a Park Cities epic.
In the summer of 2003, Elaine Saab was looking for a low-paid aide for CMG, the family’s tiny financial boutique. She talked to Debbie Rhodus, who suggested her youngest son, Keith, for the job. After graduating with master’s degrees from both University of Southern California and the London School of Economics, Keith Rhodus struggled to find a steady job. By then, the Saabs and the Rhoduses had been friends for more than 10 years. The Rhoduses’ oldest son, Tommy, dated the Saabs’ middle daughter, Elizabeth, while they were students at Highland Park High School. The two broke up after they went to different colleges, but the families kept in touch, particularly Elaine, her daughters and Debbie.
After raising two sons, Debbie Rhodus enjoyed the company of the garrulous Saab women, who together practically formed a tiny sorority. After Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, they came over to the Rhoduses’ to watch the television coverage of her funeral. Soon Elaine and Debbie began talking just about every day, although they weren’t exactly Thelma and Louise.
“I never quite understood her, but she seemed to be suffering, so I listened,” Debbie says. “There were many times when I didn’t feel like listening. It wasn’t a reciprocal relationship.”
But when Rhodus suggested to Saab that she hire her son, Saab readily agreed. For Keith, it would be a short-term gig, allowing him a salary of $2,000 or so a month to pay his bills while he considered his career options. At the time, Rhodus, who looks like a young John Elway, was glad to find a job, however modest it was for a Highland Park native with a pair of master’s degrees.
Shortly after he began work, Rhodus reviewed a screenplay Emily Saab showed him. Penned by Los Angeles writer Lee Farber, whom Emily met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, The Yentas of Sunrise Lakes was a coming-of-age tale about a Jewish teenager who flunked his bar mitzvah. Rhodus, who had reviewed scripts for an internship at USC, immediately took to it. Stocked with cultural humor, Farber’s screenplay reminded him of the surprise hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Already, the script had attracted the attention of a stable of well-known actors including Olympia Dukakis.
At the time, the Saabs’ company was on an approved list of broker-dealers for the state of New Mexico. According to state officials, CMG, like other select brokers, responded to bids from the treasurer’s office to find the best return for public funds as they became available. State officials say that Vigil kept incomplete records on CMG’s work and that the Saabs’ company no longer does business with the state.
But three years ago, long before Robert Vigil was hauled to a federal courthouse on public corruption charges, the Saabs’ connections to the state treasurer’s office proved useful. As Rhodus explains it, he saw an opportunity for the Saabs to take advantage of their access to Vigil. As part of his job, the state treasurer of New Mexico awarded generous financial incentives to production companies that filmed in the state. The Saabs already knew the treasurer. Why not set up a meeting with him to see if New Mexico would help finance The Yentas of Sunrise Lakes?
Soon after, Elaine, Emily and Keith formed a partnership with actress Linda Gray, who had met Elaine years earlier. Called Even Keel Entertainment (Keel was an acronym for Keith, Elaine, Emily and Linda), the new outfit was supposed to explore both retail and film ventures. As one of its first orders of business, Even Keel optioned Farber’s screenplay.
In late October 2003, Elaine, Anthony and Emily Saab along with Keith Rhodus flew to Albuquerque to see if their movie idea had a chance. Even Keel launched its pitch over dinner at a steak house in Albuquerque with some of the top officials in state government. Sequestered like dignitaries in a corner room, Rhodus and the Saabs met with Frank Zuniga, the director of the New Mexico film office, and Vigil. Their wives were present as well, Rhodus recalls. Gary Bland, the state investment officer, arrived late and was wearing fake teeth as some sort of joke. Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.
Although the contingency from Dallas and the state officials discussed the particulars of filming the movie, the dinner was rather informal. They ordered a bottle or two of wine and drank margaritas. Later, at yet another dinner, Zuniga whispered to Rhodus that he was too young “to get involved in this corrupt state,” a comment Rhodus mistakenly thought stemmed from the consumption of one too many drinks.
To hear Rhodus tell it, he was either quite naive about who the Saabs actually were or more than willing to overlook their slippery ways. According to Rhodus, CMG did good business in Mississippi, and to stay in the good graces of the powers that be, Elaine Saab asked Rhodus to write a $500 check to state treasurer Tate Reeves. She told him she’d reimburse him later. Rhodus says he filled the check out in front of Saab but never sent it. He did hold onto it, which would later prove useful when the FBI called.
In May 2004, however, the Saabs and the Rhoduses were as close as ever. Debbie Rhodus had just helped throw a wedding party for Emily Saab, the oldest of the Saabs’ three daughters. Emily was marrying Kurt Messerschmitt, a computer specialist and close friend of star Dallas County prosecutor Toby Shook. Now a Republican candidate for district attorney, Shook served as Messerschmitt’s best man.
Around this time, Elaine Saab told Debbie Rhodus that her son was a genius. “He is going to make us rich,” said Elaine, according to Rhodus.
By May 2004, Even Keel’s project seemed to have momentum. A few months earlier, they had made a second trip to Albuquerque, this time joined by Gray. Meanwhile, the state of New Mexico had sent the partnership an official letter informing them that their movie pitch passed their initial test.
On May 17, 2004, Rhodus arrived at CMG’s office and thought immediately it had been burglarized. Someone had upended the files and papers on his desk, as if in a rage. Then he noticed that his computer was still there, and everyone else’s offices were undisturbed. He suspected that Elaine or Emily had gone through his desk, although he did not know why. Shortly after discovering his office had been ransacked, he received a call from Elaine.
“‘You ungrateful piece of shit; you fucking little grunt,'” he says she told him nearly the moment he picked up the phone. “‘Your mom and dad are pitiful,'” she added.
Although he did not know it then, Elaine Saab was furious that he started his own outside company to review scripts. Rhodus says he did so because Saab often told him that after The Yentas of Sunrise Lakes, she was done with the movie business. He thought she had given him the green light to branch out. He just never told her.
A day or so later, Rhodus resigned from his low-paying job as an aid with the family’s financial services company but had every intention of remaining with Even Keel until they made their movie.
Days went by, and he didn’t hear from the Saabs. Although the family met again with state officials from New Mexico to discuss the movie proposal, Even Keel had not contacted him about their progress. They didn’t return his phone calls and erased his e-mail account. Keith Rhodus was out of the loop.
Then, on a fateful day around late May 2004, Rhodus was visiting his girlfriend, Randall Rauscher, a teacher. In the middle of helping her clean out her classroom for the summer, he decided to check Elaine Saab’s e-mail account to figure out what was going on with the partnership. In hindsight, this was a dumb thing to do–accessing the e-mail of a woman who had just cursed him out.
But Elaine Saab had given him her password, and he routinely checked her e-mail at her request, he says. Besides, Rhodus remained focused on the partnership’s movie proposal and figured that reading Saab’s e-mail was the only way to stay informed.
As he began reviewing Saab’s correspondence, Rhodus’ eyes began to tear up when he read that she wanted to disband Even Keel and start a new partnership, presumably without Rhodus. Linda Gray sent Saab a vaguely coherent e-mail that seemed to instruct her friend how to banish Rhodus from the partnership. Here’s a word-for-word excerpt of Gray’s e-mail, which was later shared with a Dallas County grand jury. (The ellipses, punctuation and capitalization are all Gray’s.)
“I spoke to someone yesterday who told me a story about working with Kevin Costner. It applies here and I would like to share this with you…it seems appropriate in light of what has happened with Keith.
“There was a meeting with Kevin Costner. the writer, his agent and partners were called in about a film they were doing. Kevin’s lawyer was present and his agent…KEVIN WAS NOT!!! (this was done on purpose). The Lawyer simply stated they were off the picture. They were not to come on the set, call Kevin…NOTHING!! They simply said they would see them at the premiere!!! They said that Kevin would simply walk away from the picture…and they would get nothing…or they would receive their payment and not show up at all. They also had to decide in the room. They were all angry but signed it because it meant they would get paid what was promised and get a credit…but they had to walk away. In lieu of what Keith has done…I think this applies. He messed up big time.”
In that same e-mail, Gray writes her friend that they should offer Rhodus a 25 percent fee and give him a credit. In return, he never contacts anyone involved in the movie again.
“He will be in the room alone with the lawyer but he will be told that we all will be present,” she writes. “He will have to sign the paper before he leaves the room. It’s dirty…But what he has done to you is dirtier. This seems to be a rather swift and clean way of stopping him dead.”
Because the Saabs, Gray and their attorneys declined repeated requests for comment, we don’t know why exactly their anger reached a fever pitch. Was it because he was starting his own side project? Or did they fear that he planned to swipe the screenplay right from under them? In their subsequent civil suit filed against Rhodus and his father’s law firm, which drew up the partnership agreement, Saab, Emily Messerschmitt and Gray accused Rhodus of destroying information on his work computer upon his resignation, including the partnership files. They also claimed he destroyed the partnership’s option agreement for The Yentas at Sunrise Lakes. Rhodus, however, says that he only took home documents that were his, all of which the Saabs already had copies of.
Not long after Rhodus left his job as the Saabs’ glorified intern, Elaine called his father, Tom. He says that she started unloading about Keith and claimed that he had stolen property from their office. Tom, who never liked the Saabs in the first place, doubted her story but told her if his son had taken anything, he’d return it. Meanwhile, she suggested that she might file a civil suit against his son.
“I said you better leave my kid alone,” he recalls. “I’m like a big papa bear, and if you come after my cub, I’m going to get you. You may think you can push Keith around because he doesn’t have any money, but I do.”
As she continued railing against his son, Rhodus couldn’t take it anymore. Keith had shown him the e-mails that Saab and Gray had written in which they had disparaged him and plotted to remove him from the partnership.
“I said this is the pot calling the kettle black. Here you’re saying these things about Keith.”
And that’s probably when Elaine Saab realized that Keith had signed onto her e-mail account without her permission. She obtained a court order forcing Microsoft, which operates her e-mail account, to identify the outside computers from which her e-mail was viewed. All the clues pointed to Keith.
Around June 2004, Toby Shook, a felony prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, received a call about a far milder crime than the ghastly homicides he usually tackles. Elaine Saab, the mother-in-law of Kurt Messerschmitt, one of his closest friends, asked him if it was a crime to access someone’s e-mail. Shook wasn’t sure and checked with a prosecutor with the specialized crime division by the name of Tina Yoo. Shook says that Yoo told him that it might well be and that the complainant should call a detective at the Dallas Police Department by the name of Bill Cox.
Cox spoke with Saab and apparently was convinced a crime had taken place. He later signed an affidavit for a search warrant accusing Rhodus of committing a felony for accessing her e-mail account without authorization. At the time, Cox did not know that Rhodus accessed the e-mails using a password she had given him.
Cox labeled the crime a felony because the Saabs claimed that Rhodus’ computer intrusion cost them a whopping $57,981.23. Although Rhodus did not steal a dime, the act of accessing those e-mails cost the Saabs tens of thousands of dollars in forensic computer costs and attorney’s fees, they argued.
On September 1, 2004, Cox and three other officers arrived at Rhodus’ apartment at 6:45 a.m. to conduct a search. Rhodus spent the night with his girlfriend and wasn’t there when the law paid him a visit. While they combed through Rhodus’ apartment, police took three e-mails Rhodus had accessed from Elaine Saab’s account.
When Rhodus finally returned to his apartment, he found it trashed in what was becoming an odd case of déjà vu. Officers had rummaged through his medicine cabinets and closets, tossing his clothes on the carpet. Officers even removed his air-conditioning vent, perhaps thinking that their suspect would go to such lengths as to tuck away a binder of the contraband e-mails there. Finally, one of Dallas’ finest left a big, unflushed shit in his toilet.
“I will go to my grave believing that if Keith had been there they would have provoked a fight, beat the shit out of him and claimed he was resisting arrest,” Tom Rhodus says.
The police weren’t finished. At 8:30 that morning, Cox and three other officers surprised Malee Rauscher Helm at her North Dallas home. Helm’s daughter Randall was dating Keith Rhodus, and he had accessed Saab’s e-mails at Helm’s residence a few weeks earlier. The officers showed up at Helm’s door with a search warrant, and Cox sternly warned her that she couldn’t so much as make a phone call. While Helm says that the other officers were polite and professional, Cox tore into her daughter’s boyfriend with unusual venom.
“Detective Cox said Keith was a liar and a felon and I had no business letting my daughter date him,” she says. “He said, ‘You don’t know him. You don’t know what he’s done.'”
The officers seized three computers from the Helms’ residence, including two laptops and a desktop computer. One of the laptops belonged to Helm’s daughter, Maran Rauscher, who had recently died. Born with spina bifida, Maran was paralyzed from the waist down and used her laptop to communicate with the outside world, particularly during her final days. Her parents hadn’t so much as turned on her computer since she died. But Cox needed it for his investigation.
“He was horrible and obnoxious. I can’t tell you how offensive he was,” says Helm, who repeatedly stressed that the other officers were unfailingly professional.
Cox also spoke with Randall, who would later marry Rhodus. She was in a meeting when a school official told her that there was a Dallas police detective waiting to speak to her. He informed her that her boyfriend had hacked into Elaine Saab’s computer.
“He was very much a bully,” she says. “He told me I shouldn’t be dating this guy.”
Cox denies slandering Rhodus in any way and says he merely warned Randall that she could be viewed as an accomplice to a crime since her boyfriend accessed Elaine Saab’s mail account from her classroom computer. Still, both Randall and Malee stick by their story, and Malee even took the trouble of chronicling her complaints against Cox in a letter to the grand jury that was investigating Rhodus.
A few days after the police searched his apartment, in a meeting with his criminal attorney, Keith Rhodus was told that it was possible the police might come to arrest him. He was warned that on the eve of Labor Day weekend, the authorities like to apprehend certain suspects because holiday weekends often forced them to spend days behind bars before they can see a judge. In light of how Cox executed the search warrants, his attorney told Keith to leave Dallas immediately. He couldn’t even go home to pack. That afternoon, Rhodus and his mother headed for New Orleans, where they have family.
On September 2, 2004, shortly after Cox conducted the searches, an assistant district attorney told him that Keith Rhodus probably didn’t do anything wrong. Attorney Lee Westmoreland, a Nacogdoches native who worked in the specialized crime division of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office before starting his own practice, reviewed the Even Keel partnership agreement at the request of Cox. That same day he wrote him a memo stating that Rhodus was probably entitled to read business-related e-mails since they had to do with the partnership–concluding that he “most likely has a right to the information contained in those communications.”
Meanwhile, the Saabs and Gray filed a civil suit against the Rhoduses asking for $800,000 in damages. Tom Rhodus and his law firm Looper Reed & McGraw were named as well since they drew up Even Keel’s partnership agreement. At this point, Even Keel had no money, according to its own attorney. Keith says it didn’t even have a bank account. There are probably lemonade stands in Lake Highlands that are more financially promising than Even Keel ever was. And yet, Keith Rhodus’ foolish but seemingly innocuous act of accessing Elaine Saab’s business-related e-mails launched a thousand legal ships.
The warring parties met for mediation. Tom Rhodus, an adjunct professor at SMU for more than 25 years, is an accomplished lawyer. A former trial attorney with the tax division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the serious, white-haired Rhodus represents clients under investigation by the IRS, the Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies.
Keith Rhodus says that he’s seen his father cry only a handful of times in his life, mostly after the death of loved ones. But when he met with the Saabs, he began to weep at just how toxic things had become. As he was crying, the Rhoduses caught Emily drawing a dollar sign on a legal pad. They would later ask for $600,000, Keith says.
“If they had said $25,000, my dad would have pulled out a checkbook,” he adds.
The Saabs wouldn’t budge. If the Rhoduses gave them what they wanted, they’d drop their criminal complaint and their son would no longer have a felony indictment hanging over him.
Elaine Saab would later testify in a civil deposition that she did not attempt to have Keith prosecuted. The Rhoduses laughed. It was Elaine Saab who filled out the criminal complaint against Rhodus, which triggered the exhaustive investigation.
“If Toby Shook wants to prosecute someone, prosecute her for perjury,” says Tom.
But the Rhoduses’ criminal attorney, Jim Rolfe, was counseling them to give up. Keith and Tom had picked Rolfe, a former U.S. attorney, because he was close with District Attorney Bill Hill, and they figured he could parlay that access to convince the district attorney that the case against Rhodus was frivolous at best. But to their surprise, Rolfe told their son that he was in the wrong and the Rhoduses needed to pay off the Saabs.
“He kept saying, ‘Keith, you’re guilty,'” Debbie says. “We kept saying, ‘You need to do something.'”
While their son remained under investigation by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, the Rhoduses suspected that Shook was doing Elaine Saab’s bidding. It wasn’t only because he was the best man at her daughter’s wedding. After they filed a countersuit against the Saabs, they obtained an e-mail Elaine Saab wrote to a friend in Los Angeles. In it, she boasted about how the “district attorney” gave her advice in her case against Keith and that she was going to be talking with him again on a weekend. The Rhoduses assume she was talking about Shook. Combined with how the Saabs’ civil attorneys seemed to be unusually up to speed with the status of the criminal investigation, the e-mail led the family to believe the worst: That the Saabs used their connections with the district attorney to add fuel to their civil suit.
But there’s no solid evidence to support the Rhoduses’ contention. First, Shook says he had no role in the investigation of Rhodus, and two assistant district attorneys back up his story. Lee Westmoreland and Tina Yoo, who have since left the District Attorney’s Office, both say they were under no pressure from Shook or anyone to go after Rhodus. Cox says he never heard from Shook on this case.
Meanwhile, the Rhoduses weren’t afraid to use their own connections to help their son. In July, the District Attorney’s Office was supposed to submit the case against Rhodus but temporarily withdrew it at the last minute. Tom Rhodus had enough. He penned a letter to his friend Mike Boone asking him to talk to District Attorney Bill Hill about the case. A member of the board of trustees at Southern Methodist University, Boone is a top-tier defense attorney, typically representing Fortune 500 companies in complicated corporate litigation.
In a letter to Boone, Tom Rhodus didn’t ask his friend to help exonerate his son. He just wrote Boone to see if he could use “any influence you may have” to tell Hill to either go forward with his prosecution or back off entirely. “We are not afraid of going to a trial, if that’s how this must be resolved,” he wrote. “Just let the chips (or whatever) fall where they may.”
On August 29, 2005, a Dallas County grand jury was preparing to hear the case against Rhodus. Grand jury proceedings are extremely secretive, and there’s no public record of what went on. Keith’s attorneys, however, say they saw Elaine Saab with Dan Hagood, who had served as the special prosecutor in the independent investigation of the Dallas fake drug scandal. They suspect he represented her as she prepared to detail her complaint against Rhodus before the grand jury. Hagood declined to comment on whether he had any involvement in the grand jury part of the Saabs’ legal battle.
Rhodus’ attorneys prepared a packet for the grand jury that the District Attorney’s Office allowed them to distribute. In it, they argued that the matter before them stemmed from a petty business dispute between friends. This was not a criminal case. They also stated that the complainant could not be trusted and as proof, they included in their packet a judicial order from the Saabs’ 1990 bankruptcy trial in Louisiana. In it, the judge reprimands the Saabs for preparing their financial statement “with an intent to deceive.”
Meanwhile, as the grand jury was discussing his case, Rhodus was drenched in sweat and doubled over in his car. Just a few weeks earlier, he had become engaged to Randall, his girlfriend of nearly two years, who had to explain to the police and to her own family that he was no criminal. Rhodus did not want her to have to defend him one more time.
From his car, Rhodus watched his lawyers for any kind of signal. At last, David Finn, a former judge and prosecutor, now Rhodus’ criminal defense attorney, came outside, looked at Rhodus and swung an imaginary baseball bat. They won. The grand jury decided not to indict him. As relieved as he was exhilarated, Rhodus drove home and scrolled through the names on his cell phone to call everyone he knew.
In their civil suit against the Rhoduses, the Saabs claimed that Rhodus violated Even Keel’s partnership agreement. They say that he conspired with a friend to start a separate company that would review potential movie scripts. Ironically, the Saabs somehow produced e-mails Rhodus had sent in which he talks about plans for his new venture. Rhodus never gave them those e-mails nor left them in a place where they might have been found. His attorney wrote a letter to Detective Cox asking him to look into whether the Saabs illegally accessed Rhodus’ e-mail account. Cox explains that he asked the attorney for more information and never heard back.
Keith Rhodus is now married to Randall and works as a financial advisor for a private investment group. He and his family are still contending with the Saabs’ civil suit, and although Tom and Debbie Rhodus have spent $300,000 on legal fees so far, the worst is behind them. Had he been indicted, Keith Rhodus would have been fired from his job and placed in the difficult circumstance of having to explain to people why someone of his sketchy background should be managing their hard-earned savings.
Whoever said the best revenge is living well probably never had to beat back the prospect of a felony indictment, much less explain to their girlfriend’s mom why the police came to her home and seized all the family’s computers. So when Rhodus learned that the Saabs’ old friend, Robert Vigil, had been indicted on taking kickbacks from money managers, he gladly regaled FBI agents in New Mexico with stories about Elaine Saab and their prized defendant. Then, in one of many odd twists in this case, Rhodus received a call from the FBI office in Mississippi. Turns out they were interested in the Saabs as well, particularly the family’s relationship with the state treasurer’s office there. On November 8, 2005, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Mississippi sent a letter to David Finn discussing the ground rules for a possible meeting. First, nothing Keith Rhodus said could be used against him, except in a prosecution for perjury. Second, anything Rhodus said could be used to pursue any investigative leads. Meanwhile, an FBI agent began e-mailing Debbie Rhodus about the check Elaine Saab allegedly had Keith Rhodus write to Mississippi state treasurer Tate Reeves.
Keith and Finn met with FBI agents in the attorney’s office in uptown Dallas. The federal authorities would later pay a visit to the Saabs. The agents called Finn back and told him that when they introduced themselves to Elaine Saab, she wasn’t exactly happy to see them.
“She starts screaming at the top of her lungs,” Finn says the agents told
him. “‘Keith Rhodus is behind this! Keith Rhodus is behind this!'”