Trinh, Howze charged with conspiracy

A former WGA West assistant administrator and another woman have been charged with conspiring to embezzle $17,228 from union funds set up to pay guild members for their works that were sold, distributed and aired abroad.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that a one-count criminal information had been filed against Michelle Trinh, 28, alleging that she set up an accomplice as a guild member or heir to receive three checks written a year ago. In a separate one-count information, Tracey Howze, 45, was also charged with conspiracy.

The government said that Trinh and Howze, both Los Angeles residents, agreed to plead guilty and will appear next month for arraignment. It said Trinh and Howze conspired to falsify the WGA’s database so that checks would be issued to Howze from the foreign levies fund, which is held in trust by the guild for disbursement to members and their beneficiaries or heirs.

The charge of conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

The government said the conspiracy charges are a result of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards in Los Angeles.

The WGA said Thursday the investigation of Trinh began last March as the result of a routine internal review, resulting in her termination and a referral to the Department of Labor. It said it cooperated in every phase of the prosecution and added that the losses to the foreign levies program have been fully recovered from insurance proceeds.

The “foreign levies” are collected from countries by such mechanisms as taxes on video sales and/or rentals to compensate copyright holders for reuse. Lawsuits have been filed against the WGA, DGA and SAG alleging that the guilds do not have the right to collect the funds on behalf of non-members.

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