Katherine Shaw and Kristen Caldwell, co-owners of The Actor’s Key, have pleaded no contest to charges brought by the City Attorney that they charged actors for auditions in violation of the state’s Talent Scam Prevention Act. All charges were dropped, however, against Jessica Gardner, who was their office manager. All three vehemently deny that they did anything illegal.

The Actor’s Key, which filed for bankruptcy and went out of business in February, also pleaded no contest in Los Angeles Superior Court today and was fined $5,000. Three other’s facing similar charges have also pleaded no contest, with more than 20 others still awaiting the disposition of their cases.

The Actor’s Key was one of five local acting workshops accused of charging actors for auditions – charges that even those who have pleaded no contest vehemently deny.

As part of their agreements, Shaw and Caldwell were given diversions, meaning that their records will be cleared after one year if they follow all the court’s instructions. Shaw has to serve 50 hours of community service, and she and Caldwell each have to pay $172 in restitution to the Consumer Protection Prosecution Trust Fund to help with the cost of investigating consumer complaints.

In a joint statement, Shaw and Caldwell said that they began The Actor’s Key “as two young women with backgrounds in education and theatre arts who hoped to offer a reputable, safe space for actors. As women, they were aware of the nefarious practices out there regarding how actors were treated, and wanted a place where actors, both men and women, could safely learn performance and the business of professionally acting from instructors who were teachers, actors, casting directors, producers, and directors.

“Over the last ten years, The Actor’s Key educated thousands of performers who voluntarily walked through their doors, and prided themselves on their ethics, quality of education, and adhering to the laws governing acting studios. They never had a complaint about their business practices from their members, and were shocked when the charges against the company were brought up by an undercover actor, who had never before attended a workshop or class at their studio, until his undercover performance on behalf of the City Attorney’s investigation. It was with a deep sadness that they were forced to close their doors, and end this chapter in their lives. But for their health and their families’ well-beings, pursuing a lengthy, time consuming, expensive trial was not an option. They thank their performers for their encouragement and loyalty, and hope that the services The Actor’s Key provided on the whole made a positive difference in their lives.”

As part of the plea agreement, the Actor’s Key was placed on summary probation for 36 months and must inform all prior customers that they may be eligible to be reimbursed for outstanding credits they have by making a claim on the bond posted by The Actor’s Key with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement. It must also pay $147 to the Consumer Protection Prosecution Trust Fund to cover the cost of the investigation.

Gardner, against whom the charges were dropped, said she was proud to work at The Actor’s Key. “As a former reporter for Backstage, volunteer moderator for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, and weekly volunteer for the Motion Picture and Television Fund, I have devoted my life in Los Angeles outside of acting to helping others in our industry. I cannot speak for what happened at other workshop studios, but I believe The Actor’s Key owners were following all the laws, rules, and regulations to the best of their ability. Their classes were truly the most helpful and educational resources for Los Angeles actors. It is devastating that these false accusations forced The Actor’s Key to close their doors. The owners were wrongfully accused and I was looking forward to proving their innocence, as well as mine, in trial. I am happy the City Attorney dropped all charges against me, but saddened that the owners and the teachers charged are accepting plea deals when I know they are not guilty.

“It also saddens me that educational studios like The Actor’s Key, small businesses who do not have the funds to fight a trial against the City Attorney, have been targeted in the name of the Krekorian Talent Act, which was set up to protect young performers from “make your kid a star!” -type scams, which this certainly was not. This harrowing process has cast a light on the need to further define how actors can be allowed to follow their pursuits and seek guidance from experts in their field – and yes, casting directors are audition experts – without fear of repercussion.”

Three other defendants – Scott David, the former casting director for Criminal Minds; Ricki Maslar, a casting director who taught at the Actor’s Key, and Bradley Sachs, owner of the Actors Alley workshop, have previously pleaded no contest to similar misdemeanor charges. Sachs, the first to plead out, got the stiffest sentence – 36 months summary judgment and 150 hours of community service.