I-TEAM investigates mall model search: Future careers, or false hopes?
State investigators looking into company with history of consumer complaints
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For parents with dreams of their children becoming modeling or TV stars, a modeling competition held at a Jacksonville mall seemed like just the ticket. Now, some of those parents fear their dreams never stood a chance. And after the I-TEAM started asking questions, the company behind the event has caught the attention of state investigators.
A company known as the Miami Fashion Board operated out of the Avenues Mall for several weeks this spring, promising those young and old a chance at a modeling contract, if they were to win a fashion show or talent competition.
The I-TEAM discovered that the mall kiosks – 7 of them in all – where shoppers filled out applications and submitted personal information were missing the name of the business. That business information was also missing from the company’s brochures at the event, and even their receipts. Then, a closer look at the company revealed a history of disappointed consumers.
Kristina Flores was one of the parents who entered a child into the fashion show competition at the mall.
“He’s got a great personality, so I thought he could get into some modeling or whatever,” Flores said about her son, who she said has a smile that can light up any room. The mom told the I-TEAM she was surprised to learn that in order to enter the fashion show, during which contestants sing, recite lines for commercials and walk the runway, her soon needed to take professional headshots.
“They were convincing,” Flores said. “They told me that they have agencies that will come to the fashion show on Friday, and that I’ll know by the last day of April if my son is chosen by an agency.”
Flores said she paid $365 for a three-outfit photo shoot. She added that she was told 50 kids her son’s age had entered the competition, and 25 would get a modeling contract.
“I was hoping my son would get signed on by an agency that would help us,” Flores told the I-TEAM. “Because tonight, I asked the young lady what happens next, and she explains to me that after Friday, we’ll know if an agency is going to get us signed, and at that point an agency takes over, and takes a cut of what my son makes.”
Who's behind the event?
The I-TEAM wanted to know who was behind the event, and what participants were really getting for their money. As the kiosks advertising the fashion show didn’t bear the name of the company behind the event, the I-TEAM turned to mall management.
A spokesperson for the Avenues Mall revealed that the Miami Fashion Board was behind the search, and state corporation records show the company is registered to a Broward County man, William Waldbueser. Business tax records from Broward County show the Miami Fashion Board is registered as a photography business. State records reveal that Waldbueser and his family members have a dozen modeling-related entities currently or previously registered with the state. One of those other companies, Model Productions USA, Inc., previously had a state talent agency license, but the license is now null and void, after the company repeatedly failed to renew it.
Model Productions USA, Inc.’s license was also the subject of an investigation by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. According to an investigative report, in 2008, Steve Benz, the owner of a licensed Tampa-based modeling agency, alleged Waldbueser’s company was conducting “fake talent searches” and collecting $150 from customers at the Brandon Westfield Shopping Mall outside Tampa. Based on his experience, Benz believed that the customers who were paying that money, “have no chance of becoming a model,” according to the report. He also claimed Waldbueser failed to include his license number on all of his advertisements.
State investigators found that Waldbueser’s company did violate state law, because the company address and license number and the words “talent agency” were not included on their advertisements. The company was ordered to follow Florida law, and pay a $500 fine.
Uncovering more complaints
As the I-TEAM continued looking at the company, we found complaints in other states, which caught the attention of an investigative team at a Portland, Oregon television station in 2013. At the time, the Better Business Bureau had received more than 55 complaints nationwide. We also found that Waldbueser has been conducting similar mall talent shows under different company names in other states, including Ohio, Oregon and Oklahoma.
A talent show at the Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City is where Matt Van Every claims he and his daughter were misled by Waldbueser.
“We were told she would be able to come back and compete on the runway for a modeling agency contract, potentially 5 figures,” Van Every recalled of the experience during the summer of 2018.
After the talent show competition at his local mall, Van Every said Waldbueser’s employees announced that they would name the winner of the talent show in six weeks. He said six weeks passed, and the company was unreachable by phone or email. He also said they failed to provide him with the headshots for his daughter, which he paid $400 for.
“I’m embarrassed and still embarrassed, but I’m not ashamed to talk about it, because I want to tell people about it,” Van Every said. “Anyone who will listen so it doesn’t happen to them.”
Getting answers from event organizers
The I-TEAM wanted to find out more, so we confronted the talent show’s onsite organizer at The Avenues, who identified himself as Doug Woods:
Tarik Minor: My name is Tarik Minor with Channel 4 News. Question for you, what’s the name of your business?
Doug Woods: It’s under WOW Scouting events with the Miami Fashion Board.
Minor: Do you have a business license?
Woods said WOW Scouting Events subcontracts with the Miami Fashion Board. Shoppers believed they were dealing with a model and talent agency, but no state talent agency license exists for either of these business names. Woods told the I-TEAM he’s a scout, and is not required to have a talent agency license. We wanted to know why the event’s organizers failed to identify themselves to consumers on their publications, their kiosks and their receipts.
Minor: Is there any reason why there is no information on your paperwork as to who you represent, at all, on all the literature you sent out?
Woods: Did you look on the mall press release?
Minor: I looked on your mall, all your mall advertisements.
Woods: These are just posters and banners.
Minor: So your company is?
Woods: WOW Scouting Events.
We later spoke on the phone with William Waldbueser, owner of the Miami Fashion Board. He told us his business is a “mall fashion show production company” – not a scouting company as we were told at the mall, and not a photography business, as tax records show. When the I-TEAM asked about the complaints of past customers, Waldbueser said anyone who has an issue is given his phone number, offering a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
The I-TEAM also looked through one of the brochures from the Miami Fashion Board, which boasts that actress AnnaLynne McCord, known for roles on shows including “90210,” won a professional agency contract through the company’s events. McCord has said otherwise on Twitter, responding to the investigative reporter in Oregon, saying "I am absolutely not affiliated with this nor did this company play any part in assisting my career."
@AnnaCanzanoKATU I am absolutely not affiliated with this nor did this company play any part in assisting my career. Thk u 4 shedding light!— AnnaLynne McCord (@IAMannalynnemcc) October 29, 2013
Jacksonville parents who wanted a modeling contract for their kids said they felt misled by the Miami Fashion Board’s promise of a shot at a modeling contract. They blame both the company, and The Avenues.
“I think the mall should have looked into it more,” said Flores, the mother who hoped her son would have a modeling career. “They should have definitely done better due diligence for the people, for everyone.”
The I-TEAM asked management of The Avenues a number of questions about the information the Miami Fashion Board provided before they signed the contract to operate in the mall. The Avenues did not provide any licensing information but instead issued this statement:
"All tenants and other businesses that operate at the mall must follow all local, state and federal laws. We will work with the appropriate authorities to look into these claims and will take any appropriate action pending their findings."
Investigators with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation are looking into complaints they have received from customers. It’s important to note that no charges have been filed in this case, and no one is suspected of a crime.
To help consumers detect fraudulent or unreliable opportunities, the Better Business Bureau warns that disreputable agencies often:
- Ask for up-front money, which may be called "registration," quote; consultation," or "administrative" fees. Legitimate agents work on a commission. They don't get any money until you get paid for doing the work they have obtained for you.
- Pressure you to leave a check or cash deposit or sign a contract immediately. The agent may insist that you take acting lessons at a particular school or from a particular teacher; or may try to get you to buy expensive photographs, audition tapes, or other services or materials sold by someone he or she suggests. An agent's time should be spent finding work for his or her client, not selling products and services.
- Display pictures of famous models or celebrities on the walls to make you believe they are represented by that agency, although they're not.
- Use names which sound similar to well-known agencies. Fraudulent companies will sometimes do this to give the incorrect impression that they are connected to a legitimate entity.
- Place phony ads in the help wanted section of newspapers that say something like, "new faces wanted" for commercials, movies or modeling or claim that "no experience is necessary."
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