In a first-ever prosecution over a SAG membership scam, the Los Angeles City Attorney has filed charges against an alleged con artist for offering forged SAG vouchers in exchange for work as seat fillers at TV shows.
The accused scammer, Thyvronn Verlin Hill, was being sought Monday on 10 counts of false advertising, two counts of petty theft, one count of unauthorized use of the SAG logo and one count of operating a business without a permit. Hill allegedly advertised the scheme on Craigslist.com by seeking non-union actors for his fictitious RJ Prods. with the assertion, “This is no scam.”
Ad promised that in exchange for 10 days of work as an audience member, actors were “guaranteed” a SAG voucher — a timecard from a SAG signatory given to a background actor for one day of work. Actors can join the guild if they obtain three vouchers for working on SAG signatory productions; perform a principal role in a SAG film, TV show or commercial; or perform a principal role in an affiliated union such as AFTRA or Actors Equity and are current in dues.
“In an effort to protect actors and the integrity of SAG’s membership process, my office is committed to prosecuting fraud in the entertainment industry,” said City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo at a news conference at SAG headquarters.
Guild prexy Melissa Gilbert labeled such scams “despicable,” saying the industry has long been plagued by such cons.
“I want to thank City Attorney Delgadillo for taking a strong stand for the right of aspiring actors not to be preyed upon by individuals intent on exploiting their hopes and dreams to make a quick buck,” she added.
SAG tipped off
Scam was uncovered when a pair of non-union actors alerted SAG, which launched an internal investigation and notified the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit. Hill, who was being paid $7 to $20 by audience filler companies for each person he delivered, allegedly failed to pay the actors and forged an authorization signature on the phony voucher.
Gilbert noted actors often are reluctant to come forward in such situations, since the con artist has access to personal info about the thesps involved. “This is a courageous step by the actors,” she said.
Gilbert also said bartering of vouchers and use of sexual favors to obtain them has been an ongoing problem in Hollywood.
“This kind of exploitation, unfortunately, is a reality in our business,” she said. “SAG membership requires hard work and legitimate acting accomplishments. It cannot be bought, sold or bartered.”
A total overhaul of the SAG voucher system likely will have to wait until next May, when the guild’s new fiscal year begins.
SAG chief exec Bob Pisano said he’d planned to use a proposed dues increase to invest in technological improvements and infrastructure that would prevent such abuses, but in June, SAG’s membership narrowly voted down the proposal by a slender 51.88% to 48.12% margin.