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It could happen to anyone.
It happened to the family of Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, 12th District. His wife went to a local mall with his son. Someone offering to put the young boy in movies approached them.
“It happens again and again to families across Los Angeles,” Krekorian said.
Almost always, however, there is a catch — and that catch has ensnared many poor and unsuspecting families, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said.
“As we all know, Hollywood has had a magical appeal,” he said. “The entertainment industry is a magnet for thousands of people every year who come to our community to pursue their dreams of being a star in the movies and in the music industry. That’s a very special thing about Los Angeles. We are a place where people come to fulfill their dreams.”
Feuer and Krekorian are part of a group that announced a new initiative on Friday to prevent Los Angeles families from being exploited by entertainment talent scams. Many people simply aren’t aware of the rules the entertainment industry executives have to follow, Feuer said.
“They’re here, they’re eager and often naïve,” he added. “There are those who would prey on the thousands of people who come here to pursue their goals.”
With that in mind, Feuer and other officials said they are launching a comprehensive strategy to educate the community about the laws already on the books in regards to talent scams, along with a renewed effort from the city attorney’s office to prosecute those people who exploit people trying to make it in Hollywood.
“Under the law, agents and managers are forbidden to charge any upfront fee,” Feuer said. “You can’t take an upfront fee. You take a commission when someone actually gets signed. And anybody who aspires to get into the entertainment industry should know, you can’t get charged for an audition.”
Feuer cited a recent case in which his office charged Debra Baum, 53, for four counts of violating the Talent Scam Prevention Act.
In March 2012, Baum allegedly solicited a 19-year-old singer in a hair salon to sign a $10,000-a-month management contract to handle the young woman’s vocal career.
The vocalist’s family didn’t terminate the contract until September 2012, and by then prosecutors allege that Baum had taken $70,000 from the family, as well as thousands of dollars in expenses for vocal training, stylists and recordings.
The victim’s sister also allegedly was solicited for a contract and paid an additional $40,000 to Baum in management fees for acting.
If convicted, Baum faces up to two years in jail and $20,000 in fines — plus restitution.
The family made a complaint to the city attorney’s office and the case was investigated by the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs — a major partner in the push against talent scams, Feuer said.
“We are reinvigorating our effort to enforce this law,” Feuer said. “We also want to prevent people from being victims in the first place.”
Feuer and his partners will distribute flyers warning about scams and they will roll out a comprehensive social media campaign in the coming weeks.
Krekorian helped pass the Talent Scam Prevention Act in the state legislature in 2010.
“It is the model for legislation throughout the country,” he said. “California is the most aggressive of any state in pursuing these predators.”
The nonprofit BizParentz Foundation, which was founded to support victimized families, will also be a big part of the media push, and co-founder Paula Dorn said she wanted to dispel some notions about those who get scammed.
“You can be the insane parent and find a way to do this without paying that kind of money,” she said, noting scammers used to charge hundreds but now they more commonly charge in the thousands of dollars. “These are really just the good moms and dads, where the kids get excited. And if the parents balk, [talent scam artists will] say, ‘Oh, you don’t believe in them?’”
Victims are encouraged to call the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs at the phone number (800)593-8222.
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