There's a sucker born every minute. And most of them end up in Los Angeles, capital of broken dreams.
In 2010 then state Assemblyman Paul Krekorian successfully authored a bill, AB 1319, that outlaws advance fees for Hollywood talent representation. It also prohibits scams that charge clients for head-shot photos, websites and other marketing materials.
A few folks have been prosecuted under the law since then, City Attorney's spokesman Frank Mateljan told us. But that didn't stop 53-year-old Debra Baum from allegedly charging a pair of siblings more than $100,000 for less than a year's worth of representation, prosecutors said today.
Here's the City Attorney's version of events:
In March 2012, Baum allegedly solicited a 19-year old singer in a hair salon to sign a $10,000 per month management contract to handle her vocal career. Before terminating the contract in September 2012, the victims’ family allegedly paid $70,000 in management fees to Baum as well as thousands of dollars in third party expenses for vocal training, stylists and recordings. The victim’s sister was also allegedly solicited for a contract and paid an additional $40,000 to Baum in management fees for acting.
The woman faces four counts of violating Krekorian's Talent Scam Prevention Act, the City Attorney's Office said. If she's convicted, she could face two years behind bars and $20,000 in fines, prosecutors.
The case was publicized today as part of a new talent-scam “public awareness campaign” launched by the City Attorney's Office in conjunction with the L.A. County Department of Consumer Affairs and entertainment industry groups, the office says.
City Attorney Mike Feuer:
Thousands come to Hollywood every year to pursue their dreams in the entertainment industry. We need to protect them from those who would dash those dreams by taking unfair advantage of them.
At least one of Baum's victims, prosecutors allege, was 19-years-old. And experts in the industry say it's most often parents of would-be stars who are most often targeted by talent-management scams that ask for upfront fees and cash for head-shot packages.
Paula Dorn, co-founder BizParentz Foundation:
The most costly talent scams are aimed at parents of children who have little or no knowledge of how the industry works. The costs are great in dollars and in emotional fallout on the children and their families.
Beware, people. This town is filled with sharks. And that's probably an insult to sharks.
UPDATE at 3:32 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, 2015: After we asked if now-city Councilman Krekorian wanted to comment, his office sent us this statement:
As a state assembly member, I authored the Talent Scam Prevention Act to protect performers and their families from being taken advantage of by talent representatives. Since I joined the City Council, I have worked hand in hand with the City Attorney’s Office to monitor and ensure the law’s enforcement. We are now taking another important step forward by reaching out to the public with information and putting all fraudsters on notice that they will be prosecuted if they lie, cheat and steal to get ahead.