Three Fairfax County modeling agencies, all under the cloud of a Federal Trade Commission investigation, agreed yesterday to sharply curb the sales pitches for expensive training classes they make to would-be models.
The three firms -- Model 1 Inc., whose "model scouts" annually recruit thousands of prospects throughout the area by flattering them about their looks; Creative Talent Management Inc., a dormant talent-search firm, and Erickson Agency Inc., a booking company -- made the concessions just three days after the FTC filed suit against them in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
The agreement addresses the heart of the complaints filed chiefly by numerous Model 1 customers with the FTC, Fairfax County consumer officials and the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Washington -- that the agency at 8150 Leesburg Pike in Tysons Corner engages in high-pressure sales tactics to lure would-be models into signing training contracts without much chance that they would get significant modeling work.
Under a preliminary resolution of the case, the three firms said their future sales pitches "in no way constitutes an admission . . . that they have engaged in any illegal or wrongful conduct" or that anyone has been harmed in the past.
But the firms said they now will not tell prospective modeling students that they are "highly selective" in picking prospects, represent that the trainees "are likely to obtain substantial paid employment as models," or that Model 1's "principal source of income is commissions" from models, rather than training classes it conducts.
In addition, Model 1 agreed to have its scouts hand a statement to prospects they approach on the street and elsewhere that says the model training would cost from $800 to $1,600, and that according to a recent union survey "no more than 10 percent of local acting union members earn more than $7,500 annually from acting jobs."
In exchange for the concessions, the FTC dropped its effort to freeze the assets of the three firms, as well as those of the top executives of the companies, Model 1 President Jason Hoffman, Creative Talent President Ralph Edward Bell, and his estranged wife, Patricia Erickson, owner of the agency that bears her name.
But the agreement does require that the firms and the three individuals give corporate and personal asset statements to the FTC and detail any individual transactions $2,500 or larger or any $10,000 or larger corporate transactions in the past year. The agency and lawyers for the modeling firms told U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton they would report back to him by June 21 on whether they have reached a final settlement of the case.
Erickson said her company does not train models, but estimated the firm books 3,000 to 5,000 modeling jobs annually, with a third to half of the work going to recent Model 1 and Creative Talent model school graduates. In addition, she said she is a paid consultant to Model 1.
She said she readily signed the agreement because it focused on the sales tactics consumers said Model 1 has employed.
"This is something that doesn't even apply to my business," Erickson said. "It was easy to sign. The government is scary. When the FTC says, `We're pulling you in,' you scramble. You don't want your personal assets frozen."
David T. Ralston Jr., a lawyer for Model 1, Creative Talent, Hoffman and Bell, said he did not think the new disclosure on the training costs and the relative shortage of lucrative modeling or acting work would hurt Model 1.
"By providing that notice, that takes away any concern on whether someone wants to come in and take part in the program," he said. "It's not so much new information as being succinctly presented."
He described the pact as "an easy agreement for us" because Model 1 and Creative Talent did not feel their scouts and officials have misled consumers.
"If they are misrepresenting," he said, "they're going to be fired."