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April 2003

Wilhelmina Scouting Network, Modeling Agency

Happy Trails to Lou!

Wilhelmina Modeling Scam is Out of New York April 17, 2003. The Wilhelmina Scouting Network is now out of New York State -- two months after the state Consumer Protection Board issued a series of consumer warnings about this nationwide modeling scam."It's happy trails to Lou Pearlman and his sham scouting network," said Teresa A. Santiago, Chairperson and Executive Director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board ("CPB").

Chairperson Santiago said the Florida music promoter, his partners and franchise owners have closed their offices throughout New York State and have taken other steps to dissolve the former Wilhelmina Scouting Network."But there still many other misleading and outright fraudulent modeling offers still out there," said Chairperson Santiago said. "Young people and their parents have to be wary when talent scouts or companies seek them out, offering them the dream of becoming a model while charging them exorbitant upfront fees."The CPB is currently investigating other modeling offers, including modeling conventions; agencies that solicit business from the parents of young children and modeling agencies that overcharge for photographs and other services. Modeling experts say upfront fees and expensive photo packages are not necessary and are often the sign of a modeling scam.Along with State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (8th Senate District) the chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee, the CPB conducted a public forum today to continue the CPB's ongoing investigation of all types of modeling scams. The CPB is exploring whether new state laws can be enacted to protect consumers from modeling scams."By targeting the young, hopeful and innocent of our state, these 'agencies' try to make a quick, dishonest dollar and that is unacceptable," said Senator Fuschillo. "My hope is that this forum will not just close down the companies we expose but will also alert some youngsters and their parents to these deceitful practices. We will make sure that all the power of New York State is at work to protect them but the public must continually be on guard as well."

Nassau County Consumer Affairs Commissioner Roger C. Bogsted stated, "Like parents everywhere, parents on Long Island strive to provide their children with every opportunity for success. Their desire has often brought them in contact with so-called modeling agencies operating throughout Long Island. All too often, parents find these apparent opportunities to be nothing more than expensive dead-ends. Success in modeling is rare, but the opportunities to be ripped off are numerous."

Today's public forum included testimony from Long Islanders who have complaints against several modeling companies on Long Island. Today's investigative forum also featured testimony from experts in the fashion industry, such as Gail Simon Chafik, an international talent scout and photographer from New York City."I am very pleased that the Consumer Protection Board has sent a very clear message, warning of potential signs for modeling scams like Lou Pearlman's Wilhelmina Scouting Network," said Ms. Simon Chafik. "I have heard too many horror stories from girls all over the country and the world who have paid thousands of dollars to 'scam' agents, agencies, schools or pageants. I hope that other states are following the example of the CPB, so these stories have happy endings.Ms. Simon Chafik said, "It should give the consumers, parents and young girls and men that have been victims of these 'scams' confidence to know that New York State will not stand for anyone who uses people's self-esteem and dreams for deceptive business means -- without being kept under a very watchful eye in the future."

The Wilhelmina Scouting Network ("WSN") was the largest example the CPB has found of a scam called "the photo mill," where hundreds of dollars are charged for photographs of aspiring models.Using high-pressure sales tactics, WSN would fool young people into thinking they had passed an audition to have their photos posted on a website. But the photos, website, monthly fees and other expenses totaled nearly $2,000 per person and did not lead to the modeling opportunities promised by scores of so-called talent scouts working for Pearlman and his franchisees.Like companies associated with modeling conventions, the Wilhelmina Scouting Network scam was not selective in choosing prospective models. Using flattery and misleading sales tactics, WSN was able to dupe thousands of young people and parents across the country.Chairperson Santiago said, "In a lawsuit filed against some managers of the Wilhelmina Scouting Network, Mr. Pearlman now concedes that the Wilhelmina Scouting Network operated in a deceptive manner and, as a result, harmed consumers. Despite that admission, Mr. Pearlman has not yet taken personal responsibility for his actions as chairman of the board of this "talent scouting" enterprise."It's now time for Mr. Pearlman, his company --Trans Continental Talent -- and the franchise owners to reimburse the victims of this modeling scam," said Chairperson Santiago. "So far, our requests for refunds -- or even a meeting to discuss this situation -- have gone unanswered."The CPB is working with other government agencies to bring some measure of justice to the victims of the Wilhelmina Scouting Network scam, Chairperson Santiago said.Consumers in Nassau County should contact the Office of Consumer Affairs to report deceptive practices by modeling agencies. Call 516-571-2600 to file a complaint or to inquire about the various modeling agencies that operate in the metropolitan area.