From Ecstasy to Agony

The party's over for Safari Media Inc., but the company keeps getting crashed by the Arizona Attorney General's office.

A Safari financial advisor indicted by the AG and accused of cheating nearly 1,200 investors out of $24 million became a fugitive last week after failing to surrender to Pima County lawmen. Thuk Nguyen, however, was expected to surrender Wednesday, says John R. Evans, an assistant attorney general in Tucson.

The AG's office last month indicted Nguyen and Mare Chisholm, accusing them of running an elaborate Ponzi scheme fronted by Tucson-based Safari, a multimedia company that promoted concerts.

Safari sucked in investors dazzled by the investment craze, allegedly selling unregistered securities over the Internet in the late 1990s, and going so far as to claim that the company would merge with Japanese electronic giant Toshiba.

New Times wrote extensively about Safari's bizarre rise and fall ("Ecstatic Fall," James Hibberd, September 7, 2000), after the state filed a civil suit against Safari's owners, claiming that 500 investors had been bilked out of $14 million from February 1997 to December 1999.

That suit says that Mark and Maryanne "Mare" Chisholm used investor dollars to buy homes, furniture, jewelry, clothes, cars and art. Also accused was Safari's vice president and financial advisor Nguyen.

Mark Chisholm was not indicted in the more recent suit, says Evans, because there was no evidence of criminal activity on his part.

Evans said it was hard to figure out what role Mark Chisholm might have played because he comes off as so flighty.

"Have you seen a picture of him?" Evans asked. "A picture is worth a thousand words." Pictures published by New Times show Mark Chisholm to be more than flamboyant; he once tried to kill a tarantula with bathroom cleanser in the presence of a reporter.

Nguyen, a hearing-impaired Vietnamese man, also is accused of luring dozens of members of a deaf investment group into the scheme and is under indictment in Utah for that alleged crime.

In Arizona, Mare Chisholm and Nguyen face 87 counts of selling unregulated securities to investors, all Class 4 felonies. The directors of Safari have been sued and stockholders have sued the receiver for mishandling the seizure of the business.

In addition to spending as much as $4 million on themselves, Safari owners are accused of using millions more in investor dollars to promote and stage raves, where many clubgoers take the euphoria-inducing drug called Ecstasy. The concerts featured Safari's signature "girls on stilts," along with eye-popping sets, lighting and sound systems. The company sponsored raves nationwide and was promoting concerts in Ibiza, Spain, after Safari was seized.

A former employee, who asked that his name not be used because he fears "harassment" from Mare Chisholm, said he and other workers are "absolutely committed to providing any information about (the Chisholms) that will put them in jail."

"They have harassed former employees by e-mail, told people in the club industry not to deal with us," he says. "Mare seems like a sweet lady, but if she feels like you've done something against her, she turns into a monster."

Mare Chisholm has pleaded not guilty and faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

The Chisholms could not be reached for comment, but a Web site that argues their innocence is

Thraxing about: Arizona authorities might be taking the anthrax scare seriously, but on Monday they didn't quite know what to do after New Times received a suspicious letter:

"Can-Thraxe, DEVRY, POWER OF E, AIBT, 5,600"

Nonsense, of course, but our concerned editorial administrator called the FBI, which referred her to the Phoenix Fire Department, which told her to call the state Department of Public Safety.

DPS then suggested that she expose herself to the letter further, by putting it on the fax machine so officers could take a look.

Commander Jeffery Resler of DPS now says the best course of action is to call the Phoenix Police Department. Reports made to all Arizona agencies are being funneled to the FBI, Resler says.

"This is all pretty new," he admits. "We're just going crazy with so many calls. But we are taking every call seriously."

Another New Times employee says she got the run-around when she asked to be tested for anthrax. Michael Murphy, with the Arizona Department of Health Services, says local doctors can do a nasal swab and send it to the state laboratory for testing.

The health community is also taking the scare seriously and doctors are calling wanting to know what a case of anthrax might look like, he says.

Anthrax can occur naturally, but it's rare. It's not like your local terrorist can pick up Soldier of Fortune magazine and order the stuff.

"There is no Call 1-800-ANTHRAX," he says.

Ensuring controversy: Phoenix insurance brokerage Marsh USA wasted no time in submitting a hefty bill to the Tourism and Sports Authority after it won a controversial consulting contract last spring.

The contract raised eyebrows because one of Marsh USA's employees, Roc Arnett, sits on the nine-member TSA board of directors, the group charged with overseeing the construction of a football stadium for the Arizona Cardinals.

Arnett says he was "flabbergasted" when his employer sought the contract and appropriately recused himself from the mid-March vote that awarded the company a consulting contract.

Apparently, there was lot of work.

Two weeks after winning the contract, Marsh USA submitted a whopping $26,680 bill to the TSA for insurance consulting.

The bill states that in the two-week period, seven TSA employees spent 169 hours on TSA business. One employee, senior vice president Michael Reid, claimed he single-handedly spent 120 hours on the TSA project. At Reid's $165 an hour rate he quickly rang up $19,800 in TSA billings.

Good foodie: The national Association of Food Journalists last week awarded New Times' restaurant critic Carey Sweet first place for restaurant criticism in publications with 200,000 circulation or less.

"Plenty of passion in these passages, as well as intelligence and wit. The author seems genuinely angry at bad food, and exhilarated by good," wrote the judge about Sweet's entries. "We all should be so moved. I would fear displeasing this writer lest a vat of informed vitriol be dumped on my kitchen."