The Urbandale business allegedly took over $100,000 from would-be models, but the models earned almost nothing.
DES MOINES. A court order was entered this morning in Polk County prohibiting the Lauren Ashly Agency, Inc. of Urbandale from soliciting any more customers for its purported business of discovering, marketing, promoting or managing models.
Attorney General Tom Miller filed a consumer fraud lawsuit alleging the business held itself out as a modeling agency that discovers models and manages their careers in return for a 5% to 20% share of what the models are paid by others who hire them. In reality, the suit said, Lauren Ashly Agency has received over $100,000 from selling thousand-dollar photo packages to customers, but has done little or no effective marketing for the would-be models.
The suit said approximately 120 customers were charged about $1050 each for photo-shoots and "composite" photo cards (which cost the agency about $240), while the agency's revenue from its share of actual modeling assignments was under $50.
"The agency's representation that it made money when models made money was patently false," Miller said. "People were led to believe that their selection by Lauren Ashly staff was the beginning of a modeling career, but we alleged all they received were the composite photo cards."
According to the suit, Richard D. Hronik, the principal defendant, has been involved in a succession of similar, questionable so-called modeling agencies. The suit says the Lauren Ashly agency opened here in January, succeeding a similar venture called La Belle Revé, Inc., founded by Hronik in Hiawatha, Iowa, in March 2002, and another called "Model Select International" operated by Hronik in Charlotte, NC. Model Select International closed after the agency and Hronik were sued by the North Carolina Attorney General last year for deceptive practices.
"Each of these operations exploited the career dreams of would-be models in order to sell high-priced photo packages," Miller said. "The Lauren Ashly Agency's efforts to market the models were almost non-existent, and the vast majority of the 'models' on their roster never got a single paying assignment."
The Lauren Ashly Agency and its predecessors advertised "open calls" inviting people with modeling aspirations to attend. Persons "selected" then were pitched the thousand-dollar photo package as an important tool for lining up modeling assignments.
In a Consent Judgment entered Wednesday morning after the lawsuit was filed, Polk County District Court Judge Robert B. Hanson prohibited Hronik and Lauren Ashly Agency from soliciting customers in connection with any aspect of operating a modeling agency. If a customer paid for a "composite" photo card but did not receive it, the judge ordered the defendants to provide the composite photos or a refund to customers. ("Composites" are 5-1/2" by 8-1/2" cards featuring photos of the model in various poses.) The defendants also are ordered to make their best efforts to fulfill existing commitments to obtain modeling jobs for customers. They also face a possible civil penalty of $40,000 if they fail to abide by the requirements of the judge's order.
When La Belle Revé in Hiawatha transferred contracts to Lauren Ashly in Urbandale, it sent a letter to models with various claims that were totally fabricated, according to the lawsuit. The letter claimed that 37 La Belle Revé models had acquired contracts with modeling agencies in bigger markets, including New York, L.A., Chicago and Miami -- and that one model on their roster who "hung in there with us, . . . never complaining," had been booked by a New York modeling agency to a four-year contract and would soon be headed to Paris "to build her book."
Hronik admitted under oath that there was no truth to the claims. Gross revenues in nine months for La Belle Revé were between $200,000 and $300,000, but the amount attributable to earnings of its models was less than $1,000.
Hronik also admitted the "Lauren Ashly" name was chosen because it sounded good - Laura Ashley was a famous designer whose name still is associated with a line of clothing and other merchandise.
Modeling misrepresentations and ripoffs are a long-running consumer scam. For more information, see the Federal Trade Commission bulletin on "Avoiding Modeling Scams,"
available at the FTC web site, www.FTC.gov (www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/services/model.htm).
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