Los Angeles

City Attorney Pledges Crackdown on Hollywood Talent Scams

A talent manager collected more than $100,000 in illegal upfront fees from the family of two sisters aspiring to entertainment careers, the Los Angeles city attorney alleged in a misdemeanor criminal complaint.

The complaint accuses Debra Daum, 53, of Beverly Hills, of four counts of violating the Talent Scam Prevention Act.

Baum solicited a 19-year-old woman in a hair salon to sign a $10,000 per month contract to manage her singing career, according to a case scenario  released by the city attorney's office.

It's alleged the woman's family paid Baum $70,000 from March, 2012 until the following September. Further, it's alleged Baum solicited the victim's sister for acting management, and for that collected an additional $40,000 from the family.

Baum is scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 5. She is associated with a company called DB Entertaiment, with an office on west Sunset Boulevard. Attempts Friday to reach her for comment were unsuccessful.

The case was cited Friday by City Attorney Mike Feuer in announcing a public awareness program to deter "Hollywood talent scams," and renewed efforts to prosecute violations of the Talent Scam Prevention Act, which became law in 2010.

The law prohibits talent agents and managers from charging advance fees for representation, and from requiring clients to purchase other services, such as photo shoots and lessons. Only commission fees can be collected.

It was targeted at controlling the practices of the talent solicitors often seen in malls and other public
places approaching individuals, often parents with children, purporting to be seeking "fresh faces" and dangling promises of stardom, if they sign up immediately.

The law's author, Paul Krekorian, now a member of the Los Angeles City Council, said his wife was approached recently with such a pitch when she took their son on a shopping trip to a local mall and "was asked, 'would you like your son to be in the movies?' It happens again and again."

Legitimate talent agencies and management firms "do not use this business model," Krekorian said.

The co-founder of BizParentz Foundation likened the practice to predators hunting prey by exploiting dreams. "That makes it easy to take advantage," said Paula Dorn.

A common tactic is to try to shame or embarrass the parent into signing, said Dorn, describing one scenario: "They'll ask for $8,000, you know, and if the parent balks, they'll say in front of the kid, 'oh, you don't believe in them."

The labor union for screen performers, SAG-AFTRA, receives dozens of calls every month about questionable talent management solicitation, according to its Chief Operating Officer.

"The key point is not to pay the advance fee," said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. "That's the red flag."

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