Monday, June 2, 2008

News from New Mexico

Aspiring Child Actors, Parents, Educators Conned by Unscrupulous Business

I'm posting the below press release/statement on behalf of one of my dearest friends, Debra Miller. If you care about the arts community in this town, please read on.

---Parents and arts educators in New Mexico have been duped into participating in a program claiming to teach commercial acting skills to young people. A web search of the company responsible very quickly turns up descriptions of this same pattern of events in several other states over the last few months. This program was run by an international commercial chain doing business world-wide under a number of names, some more widely known than others. Thursday, May 22nd, teachers were informed by e-mail that the school in New Mexico, only two months old, would be closed effective immediately, and that parents would be informed of this closure. As of Saturday, May 24th, at least two sets of parents and possibly more have not yet been contacted about the school’s closure, and the teachers have not been paid for their services.This program was marketed as “Pacific Modeling and Acting Academy” (PMAA). Tuition for this program ranges from $2,000-$5000 per child, due in advance. The parents who signed their children up for this program are out the cost of their tuition.
Over the course of Friday afternoon (May 24th), at least 3 contact phone numbers for this agency were disconnected, and messages left at the remaining contact number have not been returned.New Mexico’s fledgling film industry is a potential target for scams. Also, parents of the children who were involved in this program may be less likely to involve their children in the arts in the future. As a result, both the children in this state and the arts community as a whole will suffer if this is not investigated as soon as possible. There are many legitimate and trustworthy organizations that offer excellent arts programs, and any hint of deceit on the part of companies who do not take responsibility for their actions hurts us all.

Please see below for my summary of the events for this story (I am Debra Miller). Please feel free to contact me at any time for further information. Other teachers and parents involved are also willing to speak with you, including Charles Bedford, a parent of two children involved in the program, who lost $10,000 to this organization.
Darren Dunbar, another teacher, is also available to comment. Our contact information is below.

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Debra Miller, Educator
(505) 205-XXXX Blocked from public view
Darron Dunbar, Educator
(214) 563-XXXX Blocked from public view
Charles Bedford, Parent
(505) 215-XXXX Blocked from public view

Summary of events:

In April of this year, I answered an ad on Craigslist offering teaching positions for a “private performing arts program for young adults”. The ad has since been taken down, but the original posting number was job-633882058, and someone at Craiglist may be able to retrieve the information if requested.

An ad that is nearly identical in much of the wording to the Craigslist ad for PMAA is currently available at the following link (see below). This link is for John Robert Powers services:

I was interviewed by a young woman named Benay. This is the same name listed as a contact in the above ad. In my interview, I was told that this school, the Pacific Modeling and Acting Academy, was a national commercial firm specializing in training young people to act for the camera, and that they hoped to start a regular school here once they’d had a chance to become established. In the interview, I specifically asked Benay if PMAA was in any way affiliated with John Robert Powers, and I was told that PMAA was not part of John Robert Powers.

At the end of a lengthy interview (just over an hour), I was told that I would be hired.The first class session was scheduled for April 16th & 17th at the Double Tree Hotel downtown. I was told that the Academy was hoping to start a permanent base here to work with the movie industry, but that until they were more established, this is where they would be operating from for the time being, and that the site director and an assistant would fly into town for each session.The first session went well, and this seemed like good teaching position. The second session, May 17th & 18th, also seemed to go well, though it was a little disorganized; the site director did not come in but sent her assistant instead.Thursday, May 22nd, I and the other teachers received the following e-mail:

===================================Dear PACIFIC Teacher,We are writing to inform you that, unfortunately, PACIFIC Modeling and Acting Academy is ceasing operations at this time. Although we believe we offered an excellent product and are very happy with the work of our teachers, this is not always sufficient to maintain a successful business.

PACIFIC is contacting all students and clients to discuss this issue with them, and to help them continue with their acting and modeling educational goals. We will be taking whatever steps are possible to assist them.Because PACIFIC classes are cancelled at this time, we regret that your services as a teacher are no longer required.We have established a single point of contact for inquiries. Your school director will not be available to answer questions.

Please email us at and indicate your location and “EDUCATION” in the subject line. Or, call (408) 340-4184. We are happy to provide references: please make those requests using this contact information.We do wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, and are sorry that we are not able to continue working with you.

Thanks for your attention,PACIFIC Education 340-4184===================================

May 22nd was also the night that automatic payments for our last session were to have been posted to our accounts. No payment was posted. I sent an e-mail to the supplied address above requesting information about being paid, and received no response.

Friday, May 23rd, I contacted the local television stations here in town to talk to them about this as a potential news item. I was still reserving judgment on whether it might be a scam, but I felt that this was news worthy as a public awareness piece to parents. Albuquerque’s growing movie industry is likely going to bring more ‘businesses’ to town that will try to capitalize on this, and as an educator, I want to make sure that New Mexicans are aware of possible fraud. Also, the arts industry is already suffering in our current economy, and people involved in our profession are invested in making sure that children are given opportunities to participate in the arts.

This kind of thing understandably makes parents less likely to get their kids involved. This is a black eye to the industry, and it’s simply unacceptable, because the kids are the ones who ultimately lose when this kind of thing happens.It wasn’t until several hours after I contacted the TV stations that I finally received a phone call from Benay. She told me that she and the other full-time employees of the Academy weren’t paid for this last month, and that parents weren’t going to be refunded for their tuition. She seemed very upset and said that she was making these phone calls to the teachers because she felt very badly about the situation, and that as a result, she was going to have to move back home and live with her parents. I felt badly for her, and thanked her for taking time to contact me.

Shortly after this, one of the other teachers e-mailed me and requested that I call Benay back in order to ask her a question. I redialed the number from my cell phone. The person who answered the phone was not Benay, and the woman who answered said “John Robert Powers, how may I direct your call?”I left a message for Benay but did not receive a response. I now believe that we were duped into a scam, again because I asked very directly whether this Academy was a branch of John Robert Powers and was told directly that it was not.

Because Benay called me from a number that was answered “John Robert Powers” – that phone number is (480) 626-4888 – I believe that we were lied to intentionally. This number was active as of 12:00pm on May 23rd, when I received the call from Benay, and it was still active when I called her back at 12:44pm. Both of these calls are documented in my cell phone’s call log. This number was disconnected as of 3:30pm that same day.

A google search of “John Robert Powers” brings up a link on the first page to a website called “Pissed Consumer”. The comments posted below the entry for John Robert Powers indicate that this company has been in the process of shutting down for the last several months. This appears to again to substantiate a case of fraud on the part of this company:

There are many, many other pages immediately following this with complaints from parents across the country, describing the exact same situation as occurred here happening over the last several months. People are being duped, and this needs to be stopped.I believe that it is important that this story be investigated and reported on as soon as possible.

Please feel free to contact me at any time for further information. The other teachers and parents involved are also willing to speak with you.Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,Debra Miller, Educator
Cell: (505) 205-XXXX Blocked from Public View

1 comment:

Catrina said...

I am one of the parents from NM. As several other parents in other states are doing, is it possible to still get our children together? They only had two classes, but there were some friendships bloomin.