A former WGA West assistant administrator and another woman have been sentenced to five years of probation and required to pay restitution for embezzling $17,228 from funds set up to pay members for works sold, distributed and aired abroad.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the sentencing this week for Michelle Trinh and Tracey Howze, both of Los Angeles. Both entered guilty pleas in June and admitted they had conspired to falsify the WGA’s database so that checks would be issued to Howze from the foreign levies funds, which is held in trust by the guild for disbursement to members, non-members and their beneficiaries or heirs.
U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz also ordered that the women each complete 50 hours of community service for two years running. Their crime was punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to prosecutors.
The government filed the conspiracy charges following an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards in Los Angeles.
The WGA said earlier this year that the investigation of Trinh began in 2007 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 (Daily Variety, Feb. 29).
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 and SAG alleging that the guilds do not have the right to collect the funds on behalf of non-members and both actions are currently in settlement talks.