WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - A phony Florida talent agency duped hopeful parents out of tens of thousands of dollars for photo shoots that supposedly would help their children become models and actors, the state's attorney general claims.
In a lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County, Fla., Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi says defendants Roman Vintfeld, Danielle Vintfeld and Mike Winfeld, all residents of New Jersey, carried out their alleged scheme through a number of alter-egos, including Interface 3 LLC, InterFace Boca LLC, Italent.com, and Got Talent LLC.
"At the outset, talent 'scouts' acting on behalf of InterFace approach parents in shopping malls and retail venues throughout South Florida, including but not limited to malls in Sunrise, Miami, Pembroke Pines, Doral, Boca Raton, Wellington and Ft. Lauderdale," Bondi says in her complaint.
"These scouts engage the parents' children by profusely complimenting their looks, and suggest that they have enormous potential for careers in modeling or acting," the attorney general continues. "The scouts convince the parents to complete contact cards after which InterFace telemarketers solicit the parents by phone to make in-person appointments at the company's studio in Boca Raton, Fla."
During these in-person meetings, the defendants allegedly employed misleading and aggressive sales tactics to convince the parents to pay hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars, for the company's services.
Bondi says that among other things, the defendants touted an 80 percent success rate in securing modeling gigs for their discoveries and led the parents to believe that the Gap, Carter's, Disney and Nickelodeon were among their clients.
Both of these things were patently false, the attorney general says.
According to the complaint, the parents would then be talked into signing professional services agreements with the defendants for fees ranging from $575 to $5,645.
"It is not until after the parent and their child9ren) appear for the photo shoot and return for a second appointment with a 'Marketing Director,' usually a few days later, that they learn for the first time that the actual prints and marketing require the payment of additional fees and a separate agreement for an online 'membership," Bondi says. "These fees range from an additional $800 to $2,400, plus $9.95 a month for online photo access in addition to a $45 'copyright license fee.'
"Thus, the consumer learns that their initial payment of $575 to $5,645 was for the experience of a photo shoot and nothing more, not even the actual pictures. By then, it is too late for the consumer to cancel their agreement and get their money back," the attorney general says.
Bondi says the defendants' actions violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
She is seeking $10,000 in civil penalties for each act of involving the deception of the children's parents, and $15,000 in civil penalties for each act involving the deception of grandparents. The attorney general is also seeking a permanent injunction against the defendants and disgorgement of all the proceeds they collected through the scheme.
Sarah Shullman of the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division in West Palm Beach is representing the state.
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