Roses, O'Brien Cases Prove Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act Has Teeth
Using a combination of persuasion and prosecution, the LA City Attorney’s Office has used the statute to shut down alleged scams and sharp business practices.
When the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act was signed into California law in 2009, supporters hailed it as a way to protect performers—specifically children—and their families from being taken advantage of by talent representatives. It has been proved to do just that.
Since the Krekorian Act went into effect last year, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office has used it as a tool to regulate pay-for-play casting workshops, to convince Playboy Enterprises not to charge potential models to audition, and to force Central Casting in Los Angeles to stop charging photo processing fees. In those instances, some grumbled that they were being unfairly targeted for engaging in legitimate business practices. But no charges were filed. The City Attorney's Office reached out to people and institutions it felt had violated or may have been in danger of violating the law and asked them to change the way they operated. Most did, if sometimes begrudgingly.
But the last two weeks have brought a new chapter in the enforcement of the Krekorian Act. On July 28, Nicholas Roses, a former manager at Luber Roklin Entertainment, pleaded no contest to operating an advance-fee talent service and failing to file a $50,000 bond with the state. The following week, Patrick W. O'Brien of Pat O'Brien Talent Management also pleaded no contest on similar counts.
The Krekorian Act forbids talent representatives from charging fees to clients in exchange for the promise of securing employment. It also requires reps to file a bond with the state labor commissioner. Though the city had already successfully prosecuted two talent listing services under the law, Roses and O'Brien were the first talent managers convicted under it.
"These convictions send the message to talent managers and talent agents that you will be prosecuted in California if you try selling classes, photos, or websites to your clients," said Deputy City Attorney Mark Lambert, who prosecuted both cases. "Hopefully, it will inspire other states to protect their actors by passing their own version of the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act."
When he was charged in April on seven misdemeanor counts related to the Krekorian Act, Roses, 21, was a manager at Luber Roklin Entertainment, well-known for managing young performers. (He is no longer with the firm.) Roses began working in talent management in his preteen years and is by far the highest-profile defendant charged under the Krekorian Act.
In January, three parents contacted the City Attorney's Office to complain about a performers boot camp run by Roses and unaffiliated with Luber Roklin. The families claimed that they met Roses at an Ohio talent agency workshop and that he agreed to represent their children—then ages 6, 13, and 14—after advising them to relocate to Southern California and sign up for his boot camp. The cost of the training service was approximately $3,000 per child. Attempts by Back Stage to contact the complainants were unsuccessful, but according to the City Attorney's Office, the parents said the boot camp was poorly organized, it failed to provide adequate food and water, and many of the children who attended fell ill—one girl developing swollen lungs, hives, and a rash. None of the charges filed against Roses were related to the health and organizational concerns.
Roses was sentenced to three years' probation and either 90 days in jail or 45 days of community labor. He was ordered to pay $10,700 in restitution to the victims and another $2,000 in investigative costs to the city. If he pays the restitution within 11 months, the number of community labor days will be reduced to 20.
Roses is also barred from involvement with any talent training, counseling, or listing service within or outside California, as well as any camp, educational, or daycare facility that serves minors. He is, however, allowed to work as an agent or manager. He can also teach, attend showcases, and participate in panel discussions, provided he is not paid for those activities. Just days after his sentencing, Roses opened the downtown Burbank office of his new company, Total Talent Management.
In an email to Back Stage, he claimed that more than 40 of his clients have joined him at the new firm. He expressed support for the law he was convicted of violating and asserted that Lambert, his prosecutor, "has the best interests of the community in mind." He contended, however, that his boot camps and showcases "were not a scam" but rather legitimate ventures that the bulk of his clients were satisfied with.
"At the time, this law was only in effect for eight months," Roses wrote. "I did not know I was violating the law. I do not want to blame my youth for my mistake. However, I will say my lack of knowledge of this new law was the reason I was in violation; further, because of my youth it did not prompt me to look into new laws. I am just hoping that my mistake will be a lesson for any and all the legitimate talent representatives out there to know the current rules on workshops, showcases, etc."
The full text of the email Q&A with Roses, and a letter from the City Attorney's Office detailing what work he is permitted to engage in, can be read at BackStage.com.
In April, an Arizona woman contacted Lambert's office to complain that O'Brien had promised to represent her 15-year-old, then sold her a $3,000 photo shoot and acting class package for the child and convinced her to relocate to the Los Angeles area. After charges were filed, two other mothers contacted Lambert with similar complaints. One of them was Laura Estrada, an L.A. resident from Mexico who speaks limited English. O'Brien agreed to represent her daughter, who was 9 years old at the time. Estrada said O'Brien contacted her after she paid $200 to a talent listing service she found on the Internet. He asked her to bring her daughter in for an audition.
"He looked like a decent person," Estrada said, speaking in Spanish. My daughter "did not do very well in the audition, and he said she needed more training and photos and that she had the potential to become somebody. And I wanted to help her reach her dreams."
Using a credit card, Estrada paid O'Brien $2,799 for acting lessons and photos. Estrada claimed that O'Brien told her he would represent her daughter if she purchased the package, but soon after, he stopped returning her calls and never sent her daughter out on auditions.
Nancy West told a similar story. West said O'Brien sold her a $3,000 package of photos and acting classes for her daughter and made it clear that West must purchase the package as part of a representation agreement. She said that O'Brien then had a photographer—whom she later came to believe was the manager's wife—shoot the photos and that he cut short her daughter's acting classes. West was unemployed at the time and borrowed from her line of credit to pay O'Brien.
"My daughter changed after that," she said. "She doesn't have the drive that she used to have. I think she feels that the same thing is just going to keep happening."
Asked if he told West she needed to purchase headshots and acting classes for her daughter in order to secure representation, O'Brien said, "Absolutely not. I'm not an idiot. It's totally separate. I've been in this business for 20 years. I tell them straight up, 'You came to an audition. You're adorable. I saw 300 people. If you're one of the two or three that I want to manage, that would be great. If you have photos, great. Here's a contract.' " He added he has always kept training and photo services separate from his management agreements. "This was all done correctly."
O'Brien was sentenced to three years' probation, plus 90 days in jail or 45 days of community labor, and must pay a total of $6,000 in restitution to the three victims who came forward. (The community labor can be shortened to 20 days if the restitution is paid within 11 months.) He is barred from advertising employment opportunities or participating in any talent listing services anywhere within or outside the state. He is not allowed to participate in any seminar, camp, or educational facility, and he may not produce or develop films, television shows, or Web-based entertainment. He was ordered to shutter one of his companies, Talent Marketing and Promotions Inc., but is allowed to continue to manage performers.
"Even though I'm not taking on new clients anymore, I've got plenty of successful people," O'Brien said. "I may let 90 percent of them go and tell them, 'Good luck.' " In the future, he added, once his probation ends, he intends to return to producing.
The successful prosecution of Roses and O'Brien demonstrates that serious consequences come with violation of the Krekorian Act. Paul Krekorian, the former Democratic State Assembly majority leader who shepherded the bill's passage into law and now serves on the Los Angeles City Council, has watched as Lambert has used it to regulate aspects of the talent industry that for years went unchecked. In an email message to Back Stage, he seemed pleased with what he has seen.
"On the strength of the Talent Scam Prevention Act, the City Attorney's office has successfully brought to justice a pair of fraud artists who preyed on children and others lured by promises of stardom," Krekorian said. "These two convictions prove, once again, that if it is the goal of talent agencies to lie, cheat, and steal from those they've baited with promises of fame, we have the tools to go after them. I hope these convictions deliver at least a small measure of reprieve and hope to those whose dreams were swindled away."