What To Do When You Realize Your Agent’s Been Embezzling Your Money
So typically when actors get agents, the agents require the paychecks from gigs to be sent directly to them. Then they take their 10% commission and write a new check to send to you, the actor. Know that this is not the law. They’ve just been burned enough times from actors not paying them. And since their 10% commission can be quite small (hence why they rep so many actors), they are desperate to not get ripped off by the actor. BUT keep in mind: They are risking losing 10% of that check while YOU are at risk of losing 90%. There’s your set up. Now the story.
I was repped commercially by a talent agency whose owner always told me I was their favorite client. Perhaps because I had just booked a HUGE commercial. Now, here’s red flag #1: The agency owner did all the bookkeeping herself.
After my agent at this agency left, my checks suddenly stopped coming. And the commercial was still running. I would take screen grabs with dates, times and the show playing and send it to the owner and say, “Hey, can you check on this? It’s clearly still running.” They replied, “Got it! I will link it all up :)” That was the last correspondence I got from them. After months I decided to just call up Payroll Services myself - their info is on every check you get- and ask if any checks had gone out since the last one I received. They replied, “Oh yes. 12 checks mailed out and cashed. 3 new checks just got sent as well.” Feel your stomach drop? Yeah, over $15k was being withheld from me. And spent on whatever. I confronted them on the phone and got the whole, “Oh, I’m doing 5 of them right now. They’re in the mail today.” This was the beginning of lie after lie after lie. Only 2 checks came so I decided to drive to their office and demand everything. They cancelled my “appointment” and pushed it to 5 days later because more time was needed to get it ready. I don’t know about you, but calculating 10% is really easy to do. Point is: you have time to cash it but you didn’t make the time to write my check.
The rest of the story is a back and forth or lies, traveling to banks for nothing, and wasted time. I called SAG for help and they just gave me a list of lawyers I can contact. I scoured the internet and found no advice. So I had to break it all down myself. So if this happens to YOU, here’s what you do:
I was always a believer in “catch more bees with honey” blah blah. That’s a waste of time. My lawyer brother told me to call the local police and district attorney because embezzling funds is STILL a crime in this country. Think about it, if you walked out of Best Buy with $100 of unpaid stuff YOU’D BE ARRESTED and prosecuted.
Step 1: Call payroll services and STOP any outbound checks that haven't been deposited yet and switch over the delivery address to the actor's home.
Step 2: File a complaint with the California Labor Board
Now: Read the California Labor Code Laws relating to talent agencies (notice page 16 for printing) especially this section:
§ 1700.25. Trust fund accounts; Disbursement of funds; Recordkeeping requirements (a) A licensee who receives any payment of funds on behalf of an artist shall immediately deposit that amount in a trust fund account maintained by him or her in a bank or other recognized depository. The funds, less the licensee's commission, shall be disbursed to the artist within 30 days after receipt. However, notwithstanding the preceding sentence, the licensee may retain the funds beyond 30 days of receipt in either of the following circumstances: (1) To the extent necessary to offset an obligation of the artist to the talent agency that is then due and owing. (2) When the funds are the subject of a controversy pending before the Labor Commissioner under Section 1700.44 concerning a fee alleged to be owed by the artist to the licensee. (b) A separate record shall be maintained of all funds received on behalf of an artist and the record shall further indicate the disposition of the funds. (c) If disputed by the artist and the dispute is referred to the Labor Commissioner, the failure of a licensee to disburse funds to an artist within 30 days of receipt shall constitute a "controversy" within the meaning of Section 1700.44. (d) Any funds specified in subdivision (a) that are the subject of a controversy pending before the Labor Commissioner under Section 1700.44 shall be retained in the trust fund account specified in subdivision (a) and shall not be used by the licensee for any purpose until the controversy is determined by the Labor Commissioner or settled by the parties. (e) If the Labor Commissioner finds, in proceedings under Section 1700.44, that the licensee's failure to disburse funds to an artist within the time required by subdivision (a) was a willful violation, the Labor Commissioner may, in addition to other relief under Section 1700.44, order the following: (1) Award reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing artist. (2) Award interest to the prevailing artist on the funds wrongfully withheld at the rate of 10 percent per annum during the period of the violation.(f) Nothing in subdivision (c), (d), or (e) shall be deemed to supersede Section 1700.45 or to affect the enforceability of a contractual arbitration provision meeting the criteria of Section 1700.45.
This whole thing means that your agent has 30 days to pay you after they receive your check. PERIOD. Just that alone gives you power.
Check out these past DLSE cases. Read and learn the format as to what records need to be kept and disclosed so the Labor Commissioner understands how the actor was wronged. Download some, print them out, copy the format so you don't miss anything. One of my favorites is Ralph vs Trio Agency
Here is the petition form they must fill out: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/dlsepetition.pdf (it's also on page 16 of the link above)
Print it and fill it out. Leave "Case No" blank- they'll give you a case number after it's filed.
Mail it (CERTIFIED MAIL!) along with any printed out "Exhibit A or B" records you've kept along with the Talent agreement you signed with that agency to the office. As of Aug 2018 the guy there is Mario Abungin:
They do Not accept it by fax or email.
DLSE – Licensing and Registration
Attention: Mario Abungin (or whomever is in that office now)
1515 Clay Street, Suite 401
Oakland, CA 94612
Industrial Relations Representative
Licensing & Registration Unit
Now, once that office gets it they'll mail you your papers along with your case number. Then you have to pay a "serving company" to serve your ex-agent. Or get someone else to do it, then they have to fill out a "served" form. I used a company called Attorney's Certified Services (ACS). I scanned all the sheets the Labor Office mailed me to them. It cost me $129.50 and I paid via paypal for "RUSH Service Fee". Once they serve the agent, they'll send you a "Signed Delivery Proof" via email and mail you the inked one. I waited for the inked original copy just in case and then mailed it along with the other papers Certified Mail AGAIN back to Mario in Sacramento. He received it then sent it to Legal in Long Beach.
As of Aug 2018 the contact there is Lindsey Lara (562) 590-5461. But no point in contacting her until all these steps are met.
Then months later you'll receive the Notice of Assignment letter, which states the assigned hearing officer’s contact info. Then months later the case date is chosen. This whole process takes many months, so get it started immediately.
Step 3: Contact the Agency’s Bond Co.
Now that the state process is started, you have a better chance of getting your money faster. As in maybe a few months. Google your agency along with “bond co” or try this site: https://www.dir.ca.gov/databases/dlselr/talag.html
Find that bond company online and search their site for FILE A CLAIM. Follow their steps ad they’ll contact you back. They’ll begin an investigation and that agent will be forced by them to pay you or they’ll probably drop them/raise their rates.
This is the method that got the fastest results for me.
Step 4: Get Paid!
I started the bond process in Oct 2018 and was finally paid off by end of March. My ex-agency paid me the last penny (fighting all the numbers, of course) the day BEFORE the state’s Labor Board hearing. Of course, I still went to the hearing thing because:
(2) Award interest to the prevailing artist on the funds wrongfully withheld at the rate of 10 percent per annum during the period of the violation.
Have your numbers ready for the meeting. Use the money in money out method. This check was paid to me THIS many days late. Use an online per annum calculator.
I didn’t bother calling the cops or the district attorney and after seeing articles like THIS ONE come out it’s a good thing. Seems like the cops won’t do anything. But it doesn’t hurt. Agents that embezzle must be called out so other actors don’t get scammed!
So, there’s your cautionary tale. Obviously I don’t let my agents get my checks first. ALL checks are mailed to me and I pay my agent immediately. Probably faster than they‘d pay me. I don’t wait 30 days. I pay right away.