EXCLUSIVE: In tracking the protection and safety of minors on sets for Deadline, I’ve exposed a pair of imposters who assumed the identity of a certified teacher so they could work on sets as studio teachers and welfare workers, exposed lax child labor laws on sets outside of California and helped many former child actors collect unclaimed residuals sitting in an Actors Fund account.
In that spirit, I made an unsettling discovery: The last known address for two registered sex offenders convicted of crimes against minors is the Oakwood, the 1,100-unit apartment complex in Toluca Hills that has long been considered a destination safe haven for out-of-town child actors when they come to Hollywood to break into show business. Every pilot season, the place fills up with hundreds of aspiring child actors and their parents; agents and casting directors flock there on the lookout for the next discovery. The Oakwood positions itself as a safe and secure place for kids to stay: its website details how such stars as Neil Patrick Harris, Michelle Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Biel, Christina Ricci and others lived there when they were kids and how 300 child-actor families a year call the place home.
One of those sex-offender tenants already had been evicted, I was told when I contacted the Oakwood. The other still lives there, and the management wasn’t aware of him until I alerted them. Based on my inquiry, they tell me that they’ve asked him to leave.
Oakwood Worldwide President Ric Villarreal issued this statement to Deadline: “We recently learned that a resident of one of our communities is a registered sex offender. As a standard practice, we run a background check on all prospective tenants when they apply. However, in this particular instance, his conviction had not yet posted to the data base, so at that time his background check cleared. Since learning of this, we have reached out to the tenant and he has agreed to look for housing elsewhere, and we anticipate that he will be moving out in the next 30 days.”
That resident’s name is Joe Wayne Harrell, a 44-year-old registered sex offender who was convicted of knowingly possessing or controlling obscene matter of a minor engaging in sexual conduct. I verified this on the National Sex Offender Registry, but it doesn’t disclose when the indiscretion took place, the severity or any sentence that might have been served. An Oakwood spokesperson said that, following my inquiry, Harrell was immediately asked to leave and will be gone inside of a month. I spoke with Harrell directly, and the tenant declined to discuss his conviction or how long he’s been staying at the Oakwood. “I’m not too keen on saying much more about the whole thing,” he said. The California Attorney General’s office would not provide any more details about the nature of his crime.
The other former resident, whom Oakwood management said they evicted several years ago, is Joshua Ace Brossette, a 35-year-old from Louisiana who was convicted in October 2003 of “indecent behavior with juveniles,” per the National Sex Offender Public Website. “He was related to one of our corporate clients,” an Oakwood spokesperson said, “and when we learned of his status and notified the client, he moved out immediately several years ago.”
Inclusion on the Sex Offender Registry website doesn’t necessarily mean a person is a predator. In the case of Brossette, Louisiana court records show that he was 23 at the time of his arrest, charged with committing a “lewd and lascivious act upon a child.” She was a few days short of turning 17, the point where such a statute isn’t valid. Louisiana state law defines indecent behavior with juveniles as “any lewd or lascivious act upon the person or in the presence of any child under the age of seventeen, where there is an age difference of greater than two years between the two persons. Lack of knowledge of the child’s age shall not be a defense.”
California has long recognized the special status of children working in entertainment — the only industry in America that can legally employ infants and children. Numerous safeguards have been put into place over the years, from the Coogan Act, which protects their money, to the Child Actor Protection Bill, which protects them from child predators. Signed into law in 2012, it bars sex offenders from providing services to minors working or seeking to work in the entertainment industry. A wide range of industry professionals who work with child actors – including managers, publicists, acting coaches and photographers – are required by California law to be fingerprinted and to undergo background checks. Oakwood isn’t required to run background checks on those applying to live there, but it has been doing so for many years.
The New York Times has called the Oakwood “a much-sought-after residence for aspiring child actors,” and ABC News called it “the Harvard of Hollywood” and “a destination for kids from every corner of the country.” It also might be the only apartment complex in the country that has a program designed to help kids and their parents make it in show business. “Each year, many children and their parents come to Hollywood from all over the world to work in television, film, music and theatre,” it says on its website, which describes its Child Actor Program as “a specialized program … created to assist child actors and their families who decide to come to Los Angeles to pursue acting and entertainment careers.”
On a recent visit, I saw aspiring child actors everywhere, even though pilot season is over and most of them have gone back home after having missed the cut. There were kids playing in the rec room, kids swimming in the pool and, in the clubhouse next to a table full of brochures offering services to child actors, a little girl receiving piano lessons.
Because of its unique status as a home-away-from-home for visiting child actors and their families, Oakwood Toluca Hills deserves special scrutiny, and Deadline will check back to make sure that its management follows through on the promise.