Driver in celebrity death crash was Merrill Lynch adviser

Roger W. Rodas was in actor Paul Walker's car; firm “deeply saddened” by loss

Dec 2, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

By Trevor Hunnicutt

Many of the best financial advisers hope not just for proximity, but also lifelong kinship with the boldface names on their client lists.

There may be no more striking example of how close those bonds can be than the circumstances that brought the actor Paul Walker and his adviser together this past weekend.

Mr. Walker, 40, known most for his roles in the blockbuster “The Fast and the Furious” movie franchise, had been raising money for his disaster-relief organization and went out for a spin in a prized sports car with his close friend and broker, Roger W. Rodas.

The drive ended in a fiery car crash that killed both men Saturday, law enforcement officials told the media.

Mr. Rodas, 38, was a nearly-two-decade Bank of America Corp. employee who had become one of Merrill Lynch's most successful brokers in Southern California. The automobile aficionado and exotic-car shop owner also headed a team of advisers in Glendale, Calif.

Mr. Walker met Mr. Rodas at a race club, and the two talked about one of Mr. Rodas' Porsches. The two raced cars together even before Mr. Rodas developed Mr. Walker as a formal client in 2007, according to an article published two years ago by Merrill Lynch.

The article said that Mr. Rodas reorganized Mr. Walker's portfolio, “a hodgepodge of personal investments,” meeting with the actor to readjust financial strategies after each movie he made, suggesting he incorporate his race shop to make his hobby financially self-sustaining and working with an accountant to set up the actor's foundation, Reach Out Worldwide.

Authorities said the two died in a car crash in a Porsche that Mr. Rodas was driving after a Reach Out fundraising event, several news outlets reported.

The relationship between Mr. Walker and Mr. Rodas was unusual, said Jeffrey B. Wheeler, a Westlake Village, Calif.-based adviser who has celebrity clients.

Advisers who manage money for the tabloid set more commonly deal with handlers and gatekeepers, such as business managers, than their clients, he said.

“People who are as successful as Paul Walker are very busy people,” said Mr. Wheeler, whose firm is called Wealth Collaborative Inc. and manages about $350 million. “This appears to be a very deep relationship that is difficult to achieve.”

Mr. Rodas' circle of friends also included “Happy Days” actor Scott Baio.

“Roger Rodas was my dear friend & a good human being,” Mr. Baio wrote on Twitter. “I will miss him.”

“[Mr. Rodas] achieved quite a bit,” said William Halldin, a spokesman for Bank of America Corp. “We're deeply saddened by this news.”

Mr. Rodas' background in finance appeared to give him special insight into cars.

“The same way that you would put together a stock or bond portfolio — a lot of the same rules apply to how you can construct a collector-car portfolio,” he said in a YouTube video, advising collectors against stocking up on too many classic American muscle cars. “You want asset classes that are doing different things at different times, they are not correlated, which is the same way that we on Wall Street construct portfolios.”

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