Ecstatic Fall

They threw lavish raves, had endless expense accounts and traveled the world. Then the attorney general crashed the party.

The lawsuit by the attorney general and the Corporation Commission claims that the Chisholms raised $14 million selling unregistered securities to more than 500 investors across the country and spent $7 million on personal expenses. The company has been placed under receivership, effectively shut down, pending the outcome of the case.

On this night, after the harrowing trip home through the storm, Mark and Mare Chisholm enter their refuge and immediately do a costume change. They sort of resemble a tall Jon Cryer and a short Melanie Griffith as clothed by Studio 54. A Hollywood production company already has approached them about purchasing their story, and they have their own casting ideas.

"I just don't want to be played by Bette Midler," says Mare.

Mare and Mark Chisholm, a study in contrasts in their 
Tucson home.
Paolo Vescia
Mare and Mark Chisholm, a study in contrasts in their Tucson home.
Girls on stilts hit the roof at a Safari Media event.
Girls on stilts hit the roof at a Safari Media event.

Details

Read our update to this story from September 28, 2000.

"I think Nathan Lane could capture me best," says Mark.

Mare, serious and emotionally intense, is the company CEO and handles the business decisions for Safari. Mark, playful and manic with a glittery wardrobe, is president of the Safari music division. Tonight he's wearing a tight red shirt, a choker and billowy black pants. One employee claims the Chisholms had thousands of dollars worth of clothing from Neiman Marcus delivered to their home every week.

Before an interview about Safari Media's past extravagance and current legal hardships can begin, there's an immediate crisis. Mare's 11-year-old son has discovered an enormous tarantula under a desk.

When Mark sees the hairy invader, he throws up his hands, lets out a high-pitched scream and bolts from the room. ("I married the world's most homosexual heterosexual," Mare says affectionately.) When he returns, Mark has regained some of his composure and is ready to fight. He is armed with a can of Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner, and he leaps onto the desk to attack.

"Die! Die! Die!" he screams, coating the spider with white cleansing foam.

Mare smiles, her son laughs and the bodyguard watches uneasily, seeming unsure of his duty in this sort of situation.

The whole scene -- the Chisholms and their bodyguard, and the gothic decor, and the dramatic thunderstorm outside, and the wild tarantula inside -- is so overwhelmingly theatrical you expect everyone to start doing the Time Warp.

To amp the surreality even higher, Mare asks her son what he watched on television tonight, and he says, 'America's Most Wanted.'

"Were we on it?" Mare asks ruefully.

"Yeah!" says her son, gleefully catching on. "They said you were the biggest thieves in the world!"

Mare looks pained, sends the boy off to bed and gets down to business.

She wants to explain what happened. Explain to the press, to her employees and, most of all, to Safari's investors. She wants them to understand how everything got so screwed up, and how it's not really her fault. How she and Mark had the best intentions and they wanted everybody to get rich. But somewhere along the line, bad decisions were made.

Like the Chisholms' home, Safari Media is typical construction at first glance, but holds a fascinating story inside. It's a story with raves and betrayal and drugs and excessive shopping and alleged investment fraud.

Drink up, and down the rabbit hole we go.


To begin, Mare relates a brief anecdote from when she attended Saguaro High School, one that perhaps tells more than she means it to.

She always hated high school, she says. The only class she liked was English. And she knew school policy allowed students to exchange one required course for another. So during her senior year, Mare went to a guidance counselor and asked him to switch her math class for an English course. Then she went to another counselor and did it again. And again and again. Soon Mare was spending all day in the English department.

"The [principal] called me in and said, 'Normally I would expel you, but I want to know how you did it,'" she says with a smile. "And that set the course for the way I regarded life. I didn't ever want to break any laws, but I wanted to stretch the limits, and really try to do the most I could do outside of the normal boundaries. And I think that's one reason why we're in trouble right now."

Mare met Mark at Club Congress, a bare-bones dance club in downtown Tucson's historic Congress Hotel. It was 1992, and Mare was going to community college and working for her mom's tee shirt business. Her father, Herbert Allen, was one of the founders of Up With People, a national Christian organization.

Mark was a psychology major at the University of Arizona, a self-described "spoiled brat" from a privileged upbringing. On his first day during an ill-fitting stint in the Navy, Mark says, he tried to slip the commander a $20 bill to carry his bags.

During a weekend leave, Mark went to the Congress and discovered electronica. The music was a revelation -- Mark says his upbringing was so sheltered, he had never heard funk, rap, new wave or anything like it before. Club Congress quickly became his regular weekend haunt.

Mark and Mare spotted each other on the raised, exhibitionistic dance platforms. They had both grown up in Tucson and had a mutual love for the club scene, for the way a DJ and an audience can sometimes connect and a room's energy seems to soar.

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