The crowd is still the same, a group in search of a drink and a good time, and welcoming any gender, race and sexual preference. People still frequent the club for weekly events such as karaoke and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. The renovations, new sign, and new ownership and staff indicate there’s been change in the past year but don’t tell the whole story.
Club NRG moved down the street to its new location in the old Club Vortex venue, 2215 Gottingen, last February. Vortex had to close after Keith Fudge, who had started working at the club a few months earlier under the pretense of buying the business from Carl Maxwell, disappeared on September 13, 2004, after he went to the bank to deposit the weekend receipts of over $20,000. Vortex staff saw neither the cash nor Fudge again. He went missing the same day he was due to sign the papers that would sign the club over to him. To add insult to injury, $15,000 in cheques written by Fudge to cover supplies for the following month—his first in charge of the club—bounced. It sent Club Vortex management scrambling to stay out of bankruptcy and the local gay community reeling.
After a couple months of struggling to keep the club open, Maxwell decided to sell the business to Club NRG owner Peter Moll in December 2004. The club officially changed hands in February 2005. Most of the employees of Club Vortex left to pursue other avenues. Former Vortex manager and current NRG manager Eric MacRae remains the only employee from the old club.
“It was a big relief for me when it did sell,” MacRae says. “It was finally like, thank god! I’m not going to lie awake all night wondering what I have to do the next day.” Meanwhile, rumours started to circulate earlier this summer that the 45-year-old Fudge, the man originally wanted for questioning in the disappearance of the money, had been seen in Prince Edward Island working for Ocean Choice International, a seafood processing company.
Within the past few months, people who have connections to the story started to post their stories on the Gay Halifax (gay.hfxns.org) website. One employee from Ocean Choice International who wished to remain anonymous informed The Coast via email that Fudge had been let go from his job as of early August. Although the source did not say why he was let go, other sources say he was dismissed for misrepresenting himself on his resume. An Ocean Choice International spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny that Fudge worked for the company.
MacRae says Fudge has recently been located in Summerside, PEI. “Two weeks ago I got an email from a couple people over there,” he says about the call received after rumours of Fudge’s Halifax past came to light within the company. “He was the supervisor at Ocean Choice International. From what I heard, he’s no longer there. They called me a month ago to get the scoop on him and I gave them the scoop.”
When The Coast reported on the missing Vortex money in November 2004, the only sure fact known about Fudge was that he was originally from Ontario. Posts on Gay Halifax led to family members, and a report in the Windsor Star about Fudge’s appearance in PEI published on August 20 confirmed Fudge lived in Ontario with a wife, three children and three grandchildren. Both the Star article and family confirmed that Ontario authorities have issued a province-wide warrant for his arrest for swindling more than $130,000 from 14 citizens in the Leamington and Kingsvilles region through a tax filing company he owned from 2001 to 2003, just before he appeared in Halifax. He is charged with nine counts of theft under $5,000, four counts of theft over $5,000, one charge of forgery, one charge of using a forged document and one charge of impersonation.
“I’d like to see him arrested,” says Joanne Hatch of Leamington, Ontario, who had $7,500 stolen when she hired Fudge to file her taxes. Fudge told her he had paid the amount she owed as a gesture of goodwill before the filing deadline. He told her she could pay him when she had the money. She discovered after she paid Fudge that the government had not received the tax return money.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg because he’s already done some serious damage here,” Hatch says. “You don’t have any idea how many victims there are.”
Fudge also used his son Kerry’s name and social insurance number to apply for credit cards that he proceeded to max out, leaving his son with severely damaged credit before disappearing. “Basically everyone that he swindled was ticked,” says Fudge’s son-in-law Darrell Acreman, who is married to Fudge’s daughter, Crystal. “They were all hurt and they couldn’t believe that he had done it. We figured it out, my wife and I, and if you take each individual and company that he was doing books for, the $130,000 is what he swindled, but you can almost double it because these people are out that money, plus they got to pay the taxes and everything else.”
After the charges came to light, Fudge’s devastated family moved to another town to start their lives over. They have not talked to Fudge since he appeared at his grandson’s first birthday in fall 2003, telling them that he was in police protection from the Hell’s Angels. “It’s been rough,” Acreman adds. “My children have basically disowned him.”
Dave Brown, a car dealer from Kingsville, pinpoints Fudge living in a trailer at the Rainbow Lodge in Vernon Bridge, PEI, as late as the beginning of August. Brown tracked him down using information on the Gay Halifax site and repossessed the brown Buick Fudge broke his lease on.
“I stopped into a small town with my car and a big guy comes out,” Brown says. “‘You know Keith?’ he asked me. I told him all about the story. They told me something about saying he worked with a seafood processing plant for 17 years . He hadn’t worked at a processing plant any more than I had. They were really pissed off at him down there.”
Currently there are no formal charges against Fudge in Nova Scotia. Constable Greg Beach of the Halifax Regional Police says the investigation was closed at the request of the defendant (Club Vortex). That’s news to former Vortex manager Eric MacRae.
“We haven’t dropped the investigation, but the police are waiting for Carl’s accountant to finish the forensic audit on the books and until the accountant is done doing the forensic audit on the books, the police won’t lay charges,” MacRae says. “As far as I know, the investigation is still open, unless Carl closed it because he would be the only one who could do that because he’s the owner and as far as I know, it isn’t closed.”
Maxwell now lives in Kentville, away from the hectic schedule of a club owner. He was not available for an interview.
“I think he had his fill of it,” MacRae says. “Him and I aren’t impressed with the police at all. I know where Keith is at this moment and they won’t do anything.”
Fudge is not in police custody in connection with the Ontario charges because a Canada-wide warrant can only be issued by the Crown attorneys in the jurisdiction the crime has been committed.
“It comes down to money, I presume,” says Beach. “It costs money to get the person in question back. If it was murder, then that would be something that would get a nationwide warrant, but where theft is a non-violent crime, it’s not something that would get a nationwide warrant.”
Meanwhile, the Halifax gay community tries to put the Vortex incident behind it while people in Ontario deal with the devastating effects of Fudge’s actions. NRG remains one of the few places that the gay, lesbian and transgendered community has to call its home and there are plans to expand into the upstairs space with Evolution Cabaret this fall. Despite the fact that it’s a different bar and he failed to keep Vortex going, a tough-skinned MacRae plans to be with NRG for some time to come.
“I learned a good lesson very quickly,” MacRae says. “In the last interview I said whoever takes over isn’t getting the keys to anything and that’s the way it was. Peter didn’t get any keys until the end of February because it took three months for everything to go through the lawyers. It’s not that I didn’t trust Peter, I’ve known Peter for years, but I had to prove the point to myself and to the staff too.”