Latest News 2 PM 8/21/13: Wife Rebecca Rendon cleared out equipment from diner and merchandise from gallery in Old Town last night - with new lease - see follow-up to come. Current: As published in today’s Gallup Independent, August 21, 2013, my front-page story: Merchants publically expressed shock and disbelief on the 10 o’clock news in Albuquerque July 25: David Anthony Rendon, born Feb. 4, 1960, aka Red Feather, president of their Old Town Merchants Association, had disappeared with at least $20,000 of their money.
Old Town is the original center of Albuquerque and a major tourist destination. Back on April 20, the merchants were warned about the man they knew as Red Feather as a crime waiting to happen, in an article titled “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters?” that was then distributed in the community. In addition, online links had been circulated for months throughout Old Town that clearly revealed he was a career criminal, a professional con man and a convicted sex offender.
Nevertheless, the man who they had put their complete trust and faith in, who called himself David Red Feather — who was elected to a leadership position with a core group of merchants, won the confidence of a representative of the city’s cultural services department, rented from established landlords and employed a stream of staff — had conned them out of a total of more than $50,000 by promising a renaissance of authenticity in Native art and culture that would revitalize the old tourist district. He claimed to be a Lakota spiritual healer and a Native American Church roadman with special healing abilities, a successful businessman and most recently a Jewish mystic and herbalist.
Court records show he was arrested in 1997 in New Mexico as a Native American for larceny with stolen property and theft by deception, as White or Hispanic in Utah as a rapist of a minor in 2002, theft and gross lewdness, and in Colorado as a fugitive.
Rendon may also have been in Ramah in 1998 where a civil complaint was filed against a David Rendon who was accused of failure to pay rent. Website records indicate that a David Anthony Rendon, born in 1960, lived in Ramah as well as in Cañon City, Colo. Attempts were made to verify his identity with lawyers in Gallup and Grants for both the plaintiff and the defendant, but they declined to comment on the old case. The court’s record lists a wife, Sandra.
On Sept. 24, 2007, Rendon was sentenced to one year in jail in Utah for his conviction of sexual battery. He arrived in Albuquerque more than a year ago to join wife Rebecca Rendon. According to online records, the first Red Feather LLC business organization registration was established in 2007 in Cañon City between Rebecca and a business partner, Noreen Bushong. Cañon City is home to nine state and four federal prisons and penitentiaries.
Once Rendon arrived, Bushong left and that partnership was dissolved. He established a new business with Rebecca, Red Feather Diner and Trading Company, and then in December 2012 refiled it under his name alone. Rendon has now disappeared and police detectives are investigating his whereabouts.
Minutes from an emergency meeting of the Old Town Merchants Association July 11 show that the remaining two of the original five board members unanimously voted to remove President David Red Feather and Treasurer Abigail Bahr. Board member and former President Julia Butler, who had been close to Red Feather and had promoted him for president, just resigned and filed a restraining order with 15 anguished pages of charges against him. The night before, she filed a police report against him for embezzlement, a report that also detailed an ominous threat and a physical assault.
In the Albuquerque Police report dated July 10, Butler and the other merchants provided paperwork documenting embezzlement of “approximately $25,000 from the Old Town Merchants Association using both checks and credit cards.” In addition, Butler related an assault and serious threat: “Julia stated she confronted David about his business dealings. David became angry and grasped Julia’s right leg near her knee and squeezed, leaving bruises which I (the officer) saw, and grasped the back of Julia’s head in an angry manner. David stated ‘people who don’t cooperate get taken out to the desert.’” In her witness statement submitted to the civil court July 11 accompanying a request for a restraining order, Julia added that she asked David, “‘What happens in the desert?’ David responded, ‘They get buried up to their necks and are never seen again.’”
Butler has operated a small business with tour guides, Tours of Old Town, for a number of years out of a small building that was located between the Red Feather Diner and Red Feather Gallery, and they had plans to offer a tour and dinner combo.
Her story details Rendon’s modus operandi that becomes familiar in reviewing his past records: He rented an apartment to her and charged rent but never paid the landlord, he promised her they would go into business together and said not to tell his wife, he kept her exhausted and confused by overwork, paid her with promises and checks that bounced, and when she became uncooperative, also gave both her and her principal tour guide herbs that made them violently sick.
As Butler relates, “As I now go back through all of the details of how things transpired, I can see step-by-step how and when David set me up. How he lured me in, paid my bills and issued me a debit card to make me feel comfortable — then slowly tried to take control of my business (Tours of Old Town) while attempting to incriminate me for his theft of OTMA’s funds at the same time.” She also wrote in her witness statement, “At this time, I am out approximately $10,000 that David Red Feather has in his numerous bank accounts. I have approximately $200 to my name at this time. My mortgage will be two months past due in two days.”
Butler suddenly realized that she may be implicated in Rendon’s fraudulent schemes by accepting funds that he siphoned from the association. As acting president, Rendon had opened another checking account and two credit cards that he obtained in the name of the Old Town Merchants Association, which “were used to make charges in excess of $10,000 for which there was no Board of Directors approval or knowledge,” according to their July 11 board minutes.
Pueblo Jeweler, Navajo Times conned
In the March 28 edition of the Navajo Times, a freelancer had penned a story, “Native businesses breathe new life into Old Town,” in which Butler, of Tours of Old Town, had been quoted as saying, “I’ve been impressed with Red Feather’s ability to bring Native dancers here. It always draws a huge crowd.”
The article praised Red Feather in glowing terms by numerous other merchants, who in a few short months would all have cause to deeply regret their words.
Accompanied by a photo captioned “Red Feather Diner and Trading Post owners Rebecca and David Red Feather, center, cut the ribbon during the grand opening of their new business,” the article stated, “Besides being a businessman most of his life, Red Feather is a traditional Lakota healer and roadman from Pine Ridge, S.D.”
That Navajo Times article had waxed enthusiastically: “But the Redfeathers envisioned more than just running businesses. They imagined a coming together of Native people, accessible venues for Native artists, and a resurgence of authenticity. That’s why the Red Feather Diner and Trading Post and Ellouise Originals, owned by Ellouise and John Padilla, celebrated their grand opening on the same day – March 15.”
In less than two months, Ellouise Padilla, a well-established Santo Domingo jeweler, would be bankrupted by David Rendon, divorced from her husband and find her newly remodeled space occupied by the Red Feather Diner and Trading Post, LLC.
On May 17, Padilla filed a police report against Rendon — in short order he had conned her and her husband out of $14,000 after convincing them they should go into business together and open a coffee shop in an empty space adjacent to her new jewelry store. In her case, she said he mostly went to work on her husband.
To start with, Rendon told them it would cost $2,500 to set up the business and file the papers, so they borrowed money from John Padilla’s parents and gave him the cash. Her lawyer checked later and he never even filed the basic papers. It costs $50 to fill out two lines of a form to establish an LLC in New Mexico. Following an inspection and permits issued by the city’s environmental health department, the city business license is another $35. The Padillas spent more money remodeling the space to bring it up to code for the coffee shop and to buy equipment.
According to the statements Ellouise Padilla made to police and her lawyer Darlene Gomez, by the time she became suspicious and tallied up how much they had given David, it was more than $10,000. When it became clear they were being conned, she explained that her husband went to the Red Feather Diner to confront David and demanded their money back. Rendon gave Padilla a check for $11,000. When he went to cash it, the bank said there was only $35 in the account. She said that when he came back and again confronted David, Rendon laughed at him and told him, “You’re never going to get your money,” and threatened him physically.
The Red Feather Gallery now occupies the shop that she and her husband had invested their dreams in. On July 29 the city of Albuquerque assigned a detective to her case. She said that they told her it would be a long wait.
Rosemary L., a cook who worked for Red Feather Diner and Trading Post for some months last winter until she was finally able to extricate herself, described how he promised her he would leave his wife and they would go into business together.
“He knows how to read people, he used that,” she said, adding that he was able to string her along by making promises. She said that he encouraged her to cook her own family recipes, which for her was a personal dream come true.
She went on, “I know about lies, con artists, and it’s hard to fool me. I was brought up by thieves and con men, but this guy knew how to manipulate me.” She also said he had made sexual advances, that she had been warned that he was a womanizer and that she was afraid he would come after her.
She said she was paid more than once with checks that bounced. She had moved into an apartment that Rendon provided for her and her son, who was having other problems, and he convinced her she would have no place to go if she moved out. She said he kept her working overtime until she couldn’t think straight. He also told her that most of her wages had to go to pay the rent, though the landlord never got any rent money.
The cook finally got some back pay when her family forced her to quit and to file a complaint with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. She said that Rendon’s wife Rebecca showed up for the meeting with checks that she claimed the cook had cashed at the diner. The cook said the checks Rebecca brought were bogus, that she has statements from the bank showing the checks that Rendon had paid her had bounced and were on an account that had been closed. She also said repeatedly that she was afraid of him.
In Navajo the word used to describe a crook is na’adlo, literally ‘carrying around,’ meaning that you take control of someone’s mind and then you manipulate them with it.
The Navajo Times article in March had ended with this quote from Rendon, “‘Everybody deserves a second chance, no matter what’s been done,’ Red Feather said.” That was reportedly a sentiment that hit home with many throughout Old Town – that is, up until he disappeared with their money.
Tom Arviso, publisher of the Navajo Times, responded in a phone interview to the situation and their earlier coverage of it. He said that a freelancer wrote the piece.
“We are going to do a follow-up,” he said. “We were surprised.”
Arviso had harsh words for Rendon and explained how painful such deceptions are for Native Americans. “If a person misrepresents themselves, first of all, that’s just sad, and if they’re doing it deliberately, for self-gain, they’re involved in something that’s illegal and they knowingly misrepresent themselves to gain financially, or however, that’s just absolutely wrong. Regardless of whether you’re Native, Black, Hispanic, Anglo that is just wrong.
“Native American people are really cautious of outsiders but when they do give their trust to someone and then they come to find out they’ve been misled again, lied to, it really hurts, in a real bad way. It really compounds that whole trusting issue.”
Arviso continued, “From the Native American standpoint, we always believe life is made up of a real big circle with a lot of little circles (within). So if this guy has really misled people, and misused their trust and confidence, at some point it’s going to come back on him, it might not be him, it might be someone close to him, someone he really loves, but when you do that, the Creator has a way of taking care of those kind of people.
“And from a professional standpoint, people like that, they’re thieves, they think out a scheme where they make up a false identity for themselves just for self-gain, they need to be caught and go to court, and if they’re convicted, then they need to pay the price.
“Saying that you’re a Native healer, that’s putting yourself up there on a pedestal, that’s sacred – you don’t say something like that unless you actually are, and when you misrepresent yourself as a Native healer that’s terrible, that’s a major, major no-no. It’s a major sin, in the Native way you just don’t do that, it’s totally wrong, totally wrong.
Addressing if misrepresenting yourself as a Native healer causes problems for other, legitimate Native healers, Arviso said, “Definitely, it’s just like someone saying they’re a doctor and you allow them to go work on your daughter or something and then find out they’re not a licensed doctor.
“Just like, a journalist, its messes it up for all of us. As a reporter, if you have someone that goes in and represents themselves as a journalist yet the story they run is just completely slanted, it’s more yellow journalism, it makes all of us look bad, it hurts the trust that people have for our industry, as reporters, as journalists, it hurts all of us.
“Same thing goes for what he’s doing with Native healing. It makes people want to think twice if they approach a Native healer, to make sure they’re legitimate.”
One long-time New Age storeowner said that the way to deal with unscrupulous healers in the community was to, “Bless them, and run the other way. Karma will take care of them.