LA alleges ‘pay to audition’ scams

First cases filed under Kerkorian law

The city of Los Angeles has charged operators of a talent management company and an L.A.-based online talent listing business with requiring actors to pay fees to audition.

The city said Wednesday it had filed charges against David Askaryar, 46, of Hollywood Stars Management and VIP Talent Web; and Ricardo Macias, 35, owner of ActorsOnSet.com. Arraignment’s been set for Jan. 24.

The duo and businesses are accused of violating the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act of 2009.

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

Move comes nine months after the city warned casting workshops and talent services that it would enforce tightened state rules barring “pay to audition” scams, with city attorney Carmen Trutanich sending out about 200 letters to notify the operators that the Krekorian Act had gone into effect (Daily Variety, April 22).

Askaryar, Hollywood Stars Management and VIP Talent Web were each charged with 16 criminal counts including operating as an advance-fee talent representation service; failing to file the required $50,000 bond with the State Labor Commission; failing to provide artists with written contracts with required consumer protection disclosures; requiring an automatic renewal clause; petty theft; and false advertising.

If convicted on all counts, Askaryar faces up to 13 1/2 years in jail and $127,500 in fines.
The City Attorney’s Office said three aspiring actors alleged that Askaryar and Hollywood Stars Management required a website set-up fee up to $300, a recurring $39 monthly fee in order to manage their careers, a $100 early termination fee and an illegal automatic renewal clause.
Macias was charged with 18 criminal counts including: grand theft, petty theft, false advertising, failing to file the required bonds, failing to provide artists with written contracts containing the required consumer protection disclosures, failing to make the contract available for downloading and printing prior to obligating any fee, and failing to allow cancellations and a full refund within 10 days. Macias faces up to seven years in jail and a $13,000 fine if convicted of all theft charges and an additional four years in jail and $40,000 in fines if convicted of all the Krekorian Act charges.
The City Attorney’s Office said it had obtained 22 complaints alleging that artists were required to pay a $98 fee in order to list themselves on the ActorsOnSet website for employment opportunities. “Artists complained they could not obtain any offers for work and were repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to obtain a refund, some of whom were able to do so only after filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau,” the office added.
Former Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), now a member of the City Council, authored the legislation in response to prosecutors’ frustration over the lack of legislative teeth available to deal with con artists exploiting families who want their children to break into showbiz. The Screen Actors Guild sponsored the legislation, working with the City Attorney, the Better Business Bureau, the Assn. of Talent Agencies, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, the Writers Guild of America and the BizParentz org.

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