A Provo company, Nu Skin International Inc., has been illegally recruiting distributors to sell energy, cable TV, and cellular, pager and Internet services when it had no ability to provide them, Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher said.

Fisher announced a lawsuit Tuesday against Nu Skin, accusing it of operating an illegal pyramid scheme."As electric deregulation moves beyond the pilot-program phase in Pennsylvania, it is crucial that consumers and investors watch out for potential scams in this newly created competitive market," Fisher said Tuesday.

A Nu Skin spokeswoman said the company was surprised by the allegations. "We had received no prior notification of concerns by the Attorney General's Office and are not aware of any public complaints from the state of Pennsylvania," Kamille Thorne said.

She said the company has been in touch with the Attorney General's Office since it was notified of the suit, "and is fully cooperating . . . to resolve the issues at hand."

Nearly 228,000 Pennsylvania consumers are participating in pilot electric competition programs; two-thirds of all Pennsylvania electricity users will be able to choose their suppliers in 1999.

Fisher's suit targets Nu Skin's newest venture, Big Planet.

"To make money in this multilevel marketing plan, the distributor has to recruit new members, not sell any goods or services," Fisher said. "That is why pyramid schemes are illegal. Once the pool of potential recruits dries up, those on the bottom of the pyramid ultimately lose their investment."

Nu Skin and its subsidiaries had neither a license to sell electricity in Pennsylvania nor agreements with electric generators to supply power, according to Fisher spokeswoman Barbara Petito.

Fisher's suit accused Nu Skin of violating a 1991 consent order settling allegations of a pyramid scheme in the marketing of health and beauty products.

Big Planet spokesman Mark Calkins acknowledged the company had no contracts with electric suppliers and would not be offering that service.

"There were some (Nu Skin representatives) that went off and, because they saw it as a hot area, promoted it from Day 1," he said.

Fisher's suit names Nu Skin; distributors in Louisiana, Florida and Connecticut; and unnamed "John Does" who have promoted the program in Pennsylvania.

Roy Hoffman, of Erdenheim, Montgomery County, a Nu Skin "gold executive," denied Nu Skin's program was an illegal pyramid.

"There's been people gunning for Nu Skin for years, and we usually come out of it very clean," Hoffman said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer.