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State sues modeling agencies over jobs scam
By Anna Marie Kukec | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/17/2010 4:52 PM | Updated: 2/18/2010 11:32 AM

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When Claire and Steve Larsen of Aurora arrived in New York City with their son Thomas, then 10, they had hoped to get him the right experience and exposure for his modeling and acting career.

They paid about $5,000 to Chicago-based Latte Model and Talent Agency for the all-inclusive trip last year and for participation in the International Modeling and Talent Association Convention. Except when they arrived, they weren't booked at the promised hotel or the convention.

(The agency owner) "never showed up. We called and he apparently disappeared. He never checked in," said Claire Larsen.

The Larsens, along with about a dozen others from the suburbs, were victims of modeling agencies that didn't deliver on their promises yet took thousands of their dollars anyway, according to the state attorney general.

On Wednesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed separate lawsuits in Cook County circuit court against two agencies as part of a nationwide crackdown on jobs scams.

Besides Aurora, other victims were from Bolingbrook, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Northbrook, Palatine, Schaumburg and Streamwood.

The case against the Latte agency and its owner, Robert Owczarek, alleges that the agency solicited consumers for services and sold travel packages for the International Modeling and Talent Association Convention.

Consumers typically paid $5,295 per package, the attorney general's office said. In return, they were to be provided with training, photos, round-trip airfare, hotel, transportation and personal career counseling. Madigan's lawsuit alleges that the defendants failed to deliver on some of their promises.

Another suit was filed against Chicago-based Glamour Model Talent Inc. and its president, John Vuolo. The suit alleges that Glamour charged consumers up to $600 for photos but failed to secure modeling jobs or auditions for clients. The company solicited modeling clients through ads indicating models and actors were needed immediately for TV, film and print jobs that could earn up to $1,500 per day.

The defendants, however, said that before clients could get modeling jobs, they had to take "test photos" for about $99. Once those were done, the defendants told consumers they must have a larger portfolio of headshots taken for as much as $500, the attorney general's office said.

"Consumers who enlisted the services of these so-called modeling agencies failed to see any return on their considerable investment," Madigan said in a statement. "These agencies have used exceedingly deceptive tactics to con consumers out of hard-earned cash without ever providing the training that they promised or booking modeling jobs."

Madigan is seeking to prohibit the defendants from engaging in modeling and talent services in Illinois, to repay the victims, and to pay civil penalties.

The Larsen family had a little more luck than other victims. When the International Modeling and Talent Association heard of their loss in New York, the association helped them get a room and participate in the convention.

"They took care of us," Claire said.

But the photographer apparently wasn't as lucky. While the Larsens got their son's photo package, the photographer called them directly to seek his payment. The Larsens told him they paid Latte.

"We're not sure if he ever got paid," she said.

Officials with the Latte Model and Talent Agency and Glamour Model Talent Inc. could not be reached for comment.