LOS ANGELES (CN) – The husband and wife who run Montecito Fine Arts schools targeted Chinese-Americans to defraud students of $1.5 million for classes and services they never received, dozens of students claim in Superior Court. Students who enrolled in two colleges and a high school run by Montecito Fine Arts sued Arts Edgar Kuckelkorn and his wife, Trisha Ying Zi Zhang.
They claim the couple ran “a well-orchestrated scheme … to defraud dozens of families into paying thousands of dollars, and in some instances thousands of dollars, for educational courses for their children that defendants knew they would not provide.”
Montecito, which opened in November 2005 and had campuses in Arcadia, Brea and Monrovia, closed without notice in July 2009 and did not issue refunds for tuition paid in advance, the students say.
Kuckelkorn and Zhang’s promoted the schools as a gateway to Yale, Harvard and Pasadena’s elite Art Center College of Design, but the classes were overcrowded, poorly taught and sometimes were not held at all, according to the complaint.
“Kuckelkorn failed to attend classes he was supposed to teach, and when he did teach, his teaching lacked substantive content, instead focusing largely on his own life history,” the students say.
The husband and wife promoted the schools to the Chinese American community via Chinese radio and TV and Chinese newspapers. They promised discounts and benefits to people who enrolled immediately and to people who paid their tuition in full and in advance, according to the complaint.
Montecito filed for bankruptcy in August 2009 after Kuckelkorn and Zhang repeatedly assured some students and parents that the schools would reopen and ignored others’ questions altogether, the students say.
The students say the couple knew their schools were in financial distress but continued to solicit tuition anyway.
Kuckelkorn and Zhang also represented Montecito as an accredited school, which it was not, the complaint states.
The 77 students and parents seek an injunction, damages and restitution for fraud, misrepresentation, violation of consumer and business laws and false advertising.
They are represented by Julie Su with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and R. Alexander Pilmer with Kirkland & Ellis.