10News Investigates: Beware the Fair

10 News, San Diego/May 19, 2009

Del Mar, Calif. - The San Diego County Fair at Del Mar is all about fun, but the I-Team learned it’s also a hunting ground.

A $10 palm reading at a small booth led to serious financial misfortune for Anne Marie Christian.

"She told me she had a curse on me," Christian said of the woman who read her palm.

Christian has Lupus and other health problems and was vulnerable. She says she fell under the spell of the Marks family, which ran the booth and controls San Diego’s psychic parlors.

"I was the only reason my dad died of cancer," Christian was told by the Marks.

They convinced her to give them money and buy them gifts, she said. She even babysat children for them.

Finally, financially and emotionally drained, Christian decided to rid herself of the Marks. She took with her a laptop that they had convinced her to buy them.

Without knowing what was on it, she brought it to San Diego Police with a claim that she had been defrauded out of several thousand dollars.

The police "made them sound like they were untouchable," she said, explaining that the police did not want to open an investigation because the Marks family tended to hire good lawyers.

The officers never examined the laptop.

However, the I-Team did examine it, and it turned out to be a gold mine. The Marks must have overlooked a program they installed that saved their business information even after they thought it was deleted.

For the first time, Anne Marie Christian learned how much of her private information was in the laptop. Things like credit card numbers, bank account numbers, social security, date of birth information and on and on.

She found charges for thousands of dollars to stores she never visited. She said it was clear someone had stolen her identity.

The I-Team also found on the laptop a list of Marks family clients. It had birthdates and life wishes, and also phone numbers.

The I-Team called those numbers, spoke to 25 people, and learned that 24 of them had their first encounter with the Marks family at a booth at the San Diego County Fair.

Those findings were presented to Timothy Fennel, the C.E.O. of the fairgrounds.

"I think if there’s an issue, it’s a crime and therefore it’s a police issue," he said.

Multiple law enforcement sources told the I-Team that the District Attorney’s Office and San Diego Police do not like to work Mark’s family cases because they are difficult to prosecute. There is a sense that the victims should know better than to hand over thousands of dollars, even if they’re being manipulated.

Through an open records request, the I-Team learned past attempts to bar a member of the Mark’s family led to vigorous defense by Mark’s family attorneys. They argued that to deny the family access to the fair would infringe upon their freedom of religion.

Here is the response from San Diego Police to an I-Team question as to why the Mark’s family is not being investigated or prosecuted for financial crimes:

"We aggressively investigate crimes - but the problem here is that often, the individuals make the choice to give cash to businesses (like psychic parlors) and that in and of itself is not a crime. We cannot take crime reports on civil matters but we do recommend that people who believe they have been taken advantage of seek the civil remedy available to them.

With this type of activity, education is the most important element. Our elder abuse and financial crimes staff participate in community events and workshops which serve to warn the public about scams and other types of businesses that may prey on ‘vulnerable’ people. Community relations officers do the same type of education.

An individual who believes they were the victim of identity theft should report that information to our financial crimes unit. It is our responsibility to take a crime report and/or refer the victim to the appropriate resources available to them i.e., the credit reporting agencies so that they can put a freeze on their credit rating so that no one can open new accounts, etc.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.