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A novel(ized) scam

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In late 2001, Lakeside investors Jeff Bradford and his wife, Karen Arnett, smelled something rotten coming from the offices of Kalispell businessman David Tacke’s high-tech startup company Venue Tech. Arnett, who retired to Montana with Bradford after 24 years as an executive at AT&T, took a job working at Venue Tech after moving to Lakeside. The couple invested more than $200,000 of their retirement savings into the company, but after several months of working at the firm, Arnett began to suspect that Tacke was a fraud, and the couple complained to the Montana State Auditor’s office.

For Arnett and Bradford, the next six years were an emotional and financial rollercoaster that, in the end, landed Tacke in federal prison in 2005 and exposed a scandal that many observers say cost State Auditor John Morrison his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

Now Bradford and Arnett have released a fictionalized version of their story, called Masters’ Con. The couple says writing the book helped them close a painful chapter in their lives, but they say they also want others to learn from their
mistakes.

“We would like the reader to come away with a healthy dose of skepticism and some insight regarding the type of research they need to do to protect themselves before investing in new or existing business opportunities,” Bradford says.

In the book, Michael Masters is the slick, cunning con artist who, like Tacke, preys on eager investors to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself. Instead of marketing an under-seat stadium binocular system as Tacke did, Masters’ product is an under-seat Internet-based point-of-sale device. And while the similarities between the two stories are undeniable to anyone familiar with the real-life story, the book is primarily a profile of one con artist and his marks.

“Con artists are sociopaths that tend to work on people’s dreams,” Bradford says. “Letting go of a dream is very difficult, and con artists know that. They stretch you out and they stretch you out and they give you a little bit of hope and all the while they’re sucking the life savings out of you.”

Masters’ Con is available online at www.masterscon.com.

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