From The Daily News, September 14, 2004. Reproduced without permission.


The owner of a Gottingen Street gay bar is vowing to keep the business afloat after a bizarre theft by a prospective buyer allegedly depleted the club's bank account, leaving the employees without pay and the year-old club struggling to stay afloat.

"But we are like a family here, and we're going to keep going," club entertainment manager SandyMacDonald said yesterday.

Owner CarlMaxwell put the bar up for sale earlier this year, and thought he'd had a buyer - an employee who'd lived in the area for more than a year.

The prospective buyer became involved in the business, effectively running some of the club's operations.

Sources tell The Daily News the prospective buyer wrote a number of bad cheques to purchase supplies, then was reimbursed by the club.

When the time came for the buyer to pay a deposit to ensure his interest in buying the business, the man vanished, along with thousands of dollars of Club VorTex's money.

"It was an extraordinary, elaborate hoax," Maxwell said. "I'm just amazed."

The theft was the third to hit the business this summer, but this one was the most serious. The previous two thefts aren't believed to be related.

MacDonald planned to leave for Montreal to take a new job, but cancelled his plans when the club was hit by the theft.

"I couldn't leave while this was going on," he said.

Bar manager EricMcRae said the 23 employees of the club have agreed to temporary pay cuts until it gets back on its feet. Some employees have volunteered to do work for free to help the bar survive.

McRae said discovering the theft was emotional for employees and the GayCommunity.

"There's been anger, upset, a lot of tears have flowed," said McRae. "But we're going to stay. We're not going anywhere."

Downtown Coun. DawnSloane praised the club for helping to make Gottingen Street more vibrant.

"They've done a lot for the area and for the community, and to have this happen is so discouraging," she said.

Maxwell said the club will remain open and is still up for sale.

From TheCoast, November 11, 2004. Reproduced without permission

THE MAN WITHOUT A TRACE Club VorTex had a new owner lined up, then he disappeared with $20,000. Johnston Farrow picks up the trail.

KeithFudge swept into town from Ontario over a year and a half ago with stories that he had left to deal with the death of a recent lover. To the people who knew him, including co-workers, those stories seemed to change over time. One tale involved his lover dying in a train accident. Other times, it was a car wreck.

"It depended on who he was talking to that day, come to find out," says EricMcRae, one of Club VorTex's managers. "All we know is his car had Ontario licence plates on it. That's the only thing we know for sure."

Fudge quickly immersed himself in the Halifax gay scene, eventually working at the ToolBoxEast on Gottingen Street. When Club VorTex, another Gottingen Street bar, came up for sale, Fudge offered to buy the club, saying he had funds from a bookkeeping business in Ontario.

Vortex owner CarlMaxwell agreed and Fudge wrote cheques to the suppliers and creditors for that month's rent while the paperwork was being processed. He also started to work at VorTex in preparation for the takeover.

"He was pretty well liked," says SergeMartin, another VorTex manager, over coffee at the club. "He had a good personality, he was outgoing, he made things happen, he had good ideas, he was creative. But I guess in this situation, he had to be creative."

On September 13, 2004, less than two weeks after he started work at VorTex, Fudge left to deposit the club's weekend sales at the bank and never returned. It was also the same day he was supposed to hand over the signed cheques that would effectively make the bar his.

"We were here waiting for him, but after he'd gone for an errand that would take 15 or 20 minutes and you wait an hour, an hour and 15 minutes, we started thinking, 'What's going on?'" says Martin. "He just never showed up."

Martin and McRae called the police, hospitals, the ferry terminal in Yarmouth and the airport in an effort to locate Fudge, but to no avail. They called the number of Fudge's bookkeeping business only to discover a disconnected line.

Then bad cheques started to roll in: cheques for the $6,900 monthly rent, the liquor bill and the food and beverage suppliers all bounced. About $15,000 in all, on top of the money Fudge walked away with. Suddenly VorTex was at serious risk of having to file for bankruptcy.

Martin remembers how he felt when he realized over $20,000 was gone. "You feel very stupid," he says. "But at the same time, well, we basically put our trust in the wrong person."

McRae showed up around noon to discover the news that Fudge had disappeared. "It was kind of like a slap in the face," he says. "You felt really betrayed. You trusted him, took him in, then it was kind of bang! Gone."

When asked about Fudge, the VorTex managers have no problem talking about the late-thirtyish, stocky man with blonde streaked brown hair. Although other sources don't specifically mention his name, they do point to Fudge as the person who disappeared with $20,000 in cash and left behind nearly $15,000 in bad cheques. The Halifax Regional Police refuse to name anyone involved, but say they do have a suspect in the case. Sergeant Don Spicer says no one has been charged with anything, as there isn't enough evidence yet to issue a warrant.

After working all night with a few other employees trying to find a way to keep the club afloat after Fudge's disappearance, McRae called an emergency staff meeting and shared the news with the other 23 employees .

"Everyone was in shock," he says, "but at the same time, everyone got over it." Staff rallied behind the club as several people took pay cuts.

Despite the hardships, Martin says he sees the light at the end of the tunnel. He says the club has bookings for most of the month and more people are coming out to support the club.

Sitting in the bar on a Saturday afternoon, none of the Club VorTex employees seem to be affected too deeply by the incident and if they have been affected, they don't show it. Martin and McRae maintain a jovial attitude.

"A lot of people helped us build this place from square one," Martin says. "Their investment in the place is emotional as well as being the place they work. It's their dream. We're going to be OK."

Meanwhile, all that remains of Fudge is a pile of personal papers he left behind. McRae and Martin say they found evidence that suggests Fudge has a wife and daughter back in Ontario, which only raises more unanswerable questions.

Martin says that the club is still up for sale, but they will be much more cautious this time around. "It's sad to say, but I'm the kind of person that likes to trust someone until they prove otherwise," Martin says. "However, for the future sale of the club or future partnership, things are going to be done very differently."

McRae says he has no doubt the club will survive and eventually thrive again. He also agrees with Martin that the next prospective buyer will face a rigorous assessment before taking over. "No one is getting the keys to anything," McRae says with a bittersweet smile. "Not until everything is signed and the money is in the bank."