L.A. city attorney charges operators of five casting workshops with violating scam law

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office has filed criminal charges against 25 people who own, operate or work with five casting workshop companies, alleging that they have violated the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act by requiring actors to pay illegal fees in exchange for auditions.

California’s Krekorian Act makes it a misdemeanor for casting workshops to charge for auditions or other employment opportunities.

The companies allegedly charged actors to perform in front of a casting director or their staff members under the guise of an educational experience. Fees for such workshops typically range from $50 to $150 per session.

The five lawsuits, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday and Wednesday, represent the biggest enforcement action ever undertaken since the Krekorian Act went into effect in 2010.

The L.A. city attorney’s office has filed only a handful of cases under that law but appears to be ramping up its enforcement efforts. Last month, City Atty. Mike Feuer filed a criminal complaint against a Beverly Hills talent agency and its principals for allegedly violating the state law.

“I hope the filing of these charges against five so-called casting workshops and a number of individuals ... sends a strong message that any talent scam is going to be strongly pursued by this office,” Feuer said at a news conference Thursday.

The cases center on companies Actors Alley, the Actors Link, the Actor’s Key, Your Studio Productions and the Casting Network. The 25 individuals facing criminal charges include business owners and operators, and casting directors, associates and assistants involved with the workshops.

Among those people are several well-known casting professionals, including Peter Pappas, whose credits include the CBS sitcoms “Two and a Half Men” and “Mom”; Ty Harman, whose credits include ABC’s “The Real O'Neals” and Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet”; and Ricki Maslar, whose credits include the films “Twister” and “Dahmer.”

Harman and Maslar did not respond to requests for comment. A woman who answered the telephone at a business number listed for Pappas said “not interested” and hung up.

The five workshop companies either did not respond to requests for interviews or could not be reached for comment. (The Actors Link closed within the last year, according to the city attorney’s office.)

Veteran casting director Billy DaMota, who for several years has spoken out about alleged abuses at casting workshops, said the city attorney’s action would have a significant chilling effect on the workshop business.

“You are going to see the workshop business shrivel up and blow away,” said DaMota, who estimates there are about 30 casting workshops on offer in the L.A. area. “You can’t have this kind of scrutiny and not have an effect on the workshop industry.”

The city attorney’s office began investigating the matter last year with the help of an undercover informant — an unnamed professional actor —  who from February 2016 to April 2016 attended 13 workshops offered by the five companies named in the cases this week.

Each of the lawsuits includes as a defendant at least one owner or operating member of a workshop business and at least one casting professional. In addition to allegations that they charged for auditions, some defendants face allegations that they failed to use required contracts.

If convicted, each individual could face up to a year in jail and/or $10,000 in fines plus penalty assessments. Arraignments in the cases are scheduled for mid- to late-March; they are being prosecuted by Deputy City Atty. Mark Lambert.

On Thursday, Feuer’s office distributed a set of guidelines that workshop operations should follow in order to comply with the Krekorian Act, including a requirement that they make clear that participation is not a guarantee of employment.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, general counsel for SAG-AFTRA, said at the news conference that the union receives complaints about casting workshops “on a daily basis.”

“In terms of these pay-to-play … situations, we hear about it all the time,” he said. 

Several of the individuals named in the lawsuits are members of the Casting Society of America, a trade organization with more than 750 members. CSA President Richard Hicks said in a statement that his organization supports the work of the city attorney’s office.

“Along with SAG-AFTRA, CSA stands in support of treating actors with dignity and respect, and those CSA members who teach should do so only with workshop companies which are fully compliant with both the workshop guidelines and the Krekorian Act,” Hicks said.

Casting professionals typically appear at workshops as guest instructors. But DaMota said that actors who pay to participate in these workshops have for years been exploited by some operators and casting directors who “know they are not delivering education.”

“The actors … are people with dreams who want to find success in this town and will do anything to get it,” DaMota said.

The Krekorian Act is named for Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who spearheaded the legislation when he served in the state Assembly. In years past, the law has mostly been used to target talent agents and managers who’ve been accused of charging their clients illegal upfront fees in exchange for representation.

In January, Feuer filed a seven-count criminal complaint against Patrick Arnold Simpson, Paul Atteukenian and their Beverly Hills talent agency, Network International Models & Talent, alleging that they violated the Krekorian Act by charging a client illegal fees.

daniel.miller@latimes.com

@DanielNMiller

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