Talent agency, casting workshops charged

LA City Attorney files raft of Krekorian Act cases

Delores White, an Inglewood mom, thought her daughter, “Mia B.,” had star potential. White started working with Network International Models and Talent, a Beverly Hills firm that she hoped would boost her child’s career. After signing a one-year contract with Patrick Arnold Simpson and Paul Atteukenian of the firm, White paid $700 them for pictures of her daughter to develop her “portfolio.” The two men then got the family to pay them upwards of $8,000, in advance, to allow the daughter to participate in a modeling conference in New York.

But mother White got suspicious of the mounting upfront fees and contacted authorities. They have confirmed her worst worries. Officials led by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer (at lectern in photo right) have filed seven criminal charges against Simpson, 48, and Attekeunian, 51, accusing them of violating California’s Krekorian Act  by charging a client up-front fees and falsely representing Network International Models and Talent as a licensed talent agency. They were charged with petty theft, attempted grand theft, and criminal conspiracy. If convicted, each could face up to four years in jail and $33,500 in fines.

Authorities followed on the Network International case with charges in a separate Krekorian Act prosecution against 28 defendants, including 18 casting directors, associates or assistants who were guest “instructors” at five  casting workshops, which officials asserted were “pay to play” businesses barred under the act. 

These were the seventh and eighth sets of publicly announced prosecutions by the City Attorney’s Office under the act. It serves as a reminder that Los Angeles, while a star-making capital, also can be rife with dubious ways to develop talent. The existence of the Krekorian Act, and its recent updates, also serve witness to key ways that aspiring stars and their supporters can avoid scams—by watching out for anyone who wants to take money up front from them and being wary of promises that sound too good to be true, and, now that are carried by modern means like social media or the Internet.

What’s the Krekorian act?

The Krekorian Act of 2009, named after Paul Krekorian, a former state legislator and now an LA City Councilman, is a talent scam prevention law. It prohibits agents and managers from charging anything other than commissions or reimbursements from their clients.

When Krekorian wrote this law eight years ago, he “wanted to create a tool to protect budding performers from being exploited by seasoned scammers. This prosecution should put all dubious talent businesses on notice that, if they break the law in Los Angeles, they will face the consequences.”

The act specifically prohibits talent services from engaging in talent representation and charging money upfront with the promise of securing jobs. It requires services to post a $50,000 bond with the state and calls for use of unambiguous language in contracts with aspiring performers.

AB2068, known as the Talent Agency Scam Prevention Bill and introduced last February, updated the 2009 Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act. AB2068 made it illegal for agents to charge clients for classes and promises of employment through solicitations over the Internet and via mobile devices. It put fraudsters on notice that they will be prosecuted if they lie, cheat and steal to get ahead.

 

A persistent woe

City Attorney Mike Feuer, in announcing the case against Simpson and Atteukunian, decried the persistence of talent fraud but insisted that officials will be resolute in enforcing the Krekorian Act.

The Los Angeles Times reported that neither the defendants nor White could be reached for comment on the case. The newspaper said that Network International’s website claimed the agency has been “established for 25 years.” Simpson, on the site, is said to be the company owner and founder. He has appeared on reality TV shows, including Denise Richards: It’s Complicated, Hollywood Hillbillies, and Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis, according to the entertainment database IMDB Pro.

Although the state Industrial Relations Department’s online talent agency database lists a “Patrik Simpson dba Network International Models and Talent Agency “ as a current licensee, the SAG-AFTRA site, effective 2011, has reported that Network International had “surrendered its franchise with the Guild,” meaning that its members may not “engage, use, or deal through this agency.”

Casting workshops

As for the the casting workshops, Feuer and his staff asserted they were an illegal means for their operators to charge talent upfront fees. Under the Krekorian Act, casting workshop operators can be charged with a misdemeanor for seeking fees from aspiring actors for auditions or other employment opportunities. Workshops skate near the legal lines by asking aspirants to perform for a casting director or their staffers, supposedly to gain the experience and tutelage in doing so successfully — but at the cost$50 to $150 per workshop. Feuer, who has distributed guidelines developed with the Casting Society of America for proper conduct of the popular but much-complained about sessions, has emphasized that workshops should make clear their educational roles — and they should be explicit that there are no links or guarantees to auditions or jobs.

The City Attorney’s Office built its case against the workshops by working with an actor who went undercover to see their operations.

Feuer said these businesses and their staff were charged:

 

  • The Actors Link – two co-owners each charged with three counts of charging for auditions and one count of failing to use contracts conforming to the law, and four casting persons (including the co-owner) each charged with charging for auditions.

  • The Actor’s Key – the LLC, three operating members each charged with three counts of charging for auditions.  Three casting persons each charged with one count of charging for auditions.

  • Actors Alley – the owner charged with two counts of charging for auditions and one count of failing to use contracts.  Two casting persons each charged with one count of charging for auditions.

  • Casting Network – the LLC and its operating member charged with three counts of charging for auditions and one count of failing to use a contract. Three casting persons each charged with one count of charging for auditions.

  • Studio Productions – the LLC and its operating member charged with two counts of charging for auditions and one count of failing to use a contract.  Six casting persons each charged with with one count of charging for auditions.

The Times said some notable casting directors were caught up in the Krekorian Act sweep, including: Peter Pappas, whose credits include the CBS sitcoms Two and a Half Men and Mom; Ty Harman, whose credits include ABC’s The Real O’Neals and Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet; and Ricki Maslar, whose credits include the films Twister and Dahmer. The paper reported that “Harman and Maslar did not respond to requests for comment. A woman who answered the telephone at a business number listed for Pappas said “not interested” and hung up. The five workshop companies either did not respond to requests for interviews or could not be reached for comment. (The Actors Link closed within the last year, according to the city attorney’s office.)”

If convicted, each could face up to one year in jail and/or a $10,000 fine plus penalty assessments for each count. Arraignment is scheduled in mid-to-late March.

Previous cases under the act

 

Authorities have prevailed in some notable Krekorian Act prosecutions: In 2011, former manager Nicholas Roses pleaded no contest to charging clients upfront fees and failing to file a $50,000 bond with the state. And manager Debra Baum was convicted last year of charging the parents of two aspiring entertainers more than $100,000 in illegal upfront fees.

The Krekorian Act, by the way, can carry additional criminal penalties for violations, including requiring offenders to cover three times the amount paid for the service, victims’ attorney costs, a $10,000 fine, and six months in jail.  Lack of knowledge is not a defense and these violations are criminal , not civil. The talent service itself is not the only potential offender: A person who aids and abets a violation of this statute is also criminally liable.

Feuer has emphasized the act remains more important than ever: With the widespread use of the Internet, too many people think they can become a famous star overnight. The Krekorian Act ensures that the people are protected from fraudulent talent scams that prey on their hopes, dreams, and optimism. “The promise of Hollywood has lured thousands of people from around the globe to pursue careers in television and movies,” he said in a statement about the Network International case. “Unfortunately, that promise also attracts unscrupulous individuals who would take advantage of those hopes and dreams. My office will hold accountable those who prey on aspiring performers to the full extent of the law.”