EXCLUSIVE: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and seven members of the L.A. City Council earlier this year signed glowing letters of support for a talent showcase and charity run out of the downtown loft of a local talent manager who may have violated state and federal labor laws.
Sunny Chae, whose Global One Management represents numerous aspiring child actors who have performed at her annual Worldwide Star Search talent showcase, doesn’t have a child performer services permit, which is required of any person who intends to represent or provide specified services for a fee in the state of California to any artist or performer under the age of 18.
The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012, is designed to protect child actors from registered sex offenders and requires managers, acting coaches, publicists and photographers who regularly work with child performers to be fingerprinted and their names to be entered into a searchable database. State records show that Chae, whose Global One has represented dozens of child actors, has never obtained a child performer services permit.
Breakdown Services, the industry’s premier casting site, recently deactivated Global One’s account after receiving complaints, and numerous parents of children who signed up with Global One have told Deadline they now believe it’s all a scam to take advantage of their children’s hopes for stardom.
Global One also claims Disney Channel and its series Austin & Ally as “recent clients,” and posted their logos on its website. But Disney Channel says it’s never had anything to do with Global One, and that its use of Disney logos is unauthorized.
“Disney Channel is not affiliated with Global One Management,” Disney Channel spokeswoman Patti McTeague told Deadline. “The use of Disney logos and assets by Global One is unauthorized. Disney protects its rights vigorously. However, we can’t comment further about suspected infringement or possible investigations or actions into such matters.”
Global One has also violated state and federal minimum wage laws by employing numerous unpaid “interns.” State and federal law requires all workers be paid no less than minimum wage unless they’re interns who are receiving school credit.
“I didn’t get paid and I did not receive college credit,” said a former Global One “intern,” who said she worked three days a week, eight hours a day, for three months to prepare for a recent Worldwide Star Search showcase. She said she performed general office and clerical work, and “They put me in charge of trying to get letters from the Mayor and other officials to get them to endorse the showcase. They gave a list of people to send these letters to.”
“There were four interns when I was there,” she said, “and we all had to pay for parking downtown every time we came to work.”
Another unpaid “intern” worked at Global One full time for six months in 2015 without getting paid or receiving college credit. “That summer, we had multiple interns,” he said. “We were blasting the Mayor and other leaders to endorse the showcase. They were getting a lot of negative Yelp reviews, so that summer was all about getting the mayor’s office to say the showcase was a positive event. We sent continuous emails and made numerous phone calls to get the mayor to support us.”
Garcetti and Feinstein both signed letters of support that summer, as did city councilman Joe Buscaino, who noted that the showcase has created “educational and performance opportunities for aspiring models and talent over the age 5.”
Those letters were “a big deal” for Global One, an intern told Deadline. “Sunny wanted them. It gave her legitimacy, and she posted them on the Worldwide Star Search website and on Facebook as well.”
Charity & Showcase
Chae and Global One have been putting on the Worldwide Star Search showcase since 1998. Last July, it was held in downtown Los Angeles at the Millennium Biltmore. This year, for the first time, Chae added a charity component to the event, sponsoring it through the Rejoice in Hope Foundation, a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt charitable organization she formed in June. Its goal is to raise $1 million by the end of the year to help the nation’s homeless. Chae says the showcase will be held again at the Biltmore next July, for which “auditions” opened September 1.
They’re not really auditions, however, since everyone who has the $1,250 entry fee is accepted.
The glowing letters of support written by Garcetti and other elected officials are used by Chae to give her enterprises the air of legitimacy to better lure aspiring actors – adults and children – into signing up to pay thousands of dollars for classes, headshots and the showcase.
While it’s not uncommon for local pols to write letters welcoming conventions and trade shows to town, rarely have so many elected officials lent their names to a charity that was founded just a few weeks before they so profusely extolled its many good works.
Garcetti was led to believe that the foundation has been inspiring young performers to understand the plight of the homeless for “more than three decades.” At least that’s what he said in his most recent letter of support. And when Chae posted it on her showcase’s website, she didn’t bother to correct him.
“Dear Friends,” Garcetti wrote on July 27, 2017. “On behalf of the City of Los Angeles, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Worldwide Star Search gala fundraiser hosted by the Rejoice in Hope Foundation. For more than three decades, the Rejoice in Hope Foundation has provided aspiring performers with opportunities to gain experience and training, and a greater understanding of the challenges facing homeless people in this country. Worldwide Star Search has changed the lives of countless young people, and encouraged them to use the talent to make a difference in the lives of homeless women and children. I send my best wishes for a memorable event and continued success.”
Trouble is, the foundation hadn’t been helping the homeless or teaching aspiring young performers about their plight for “more than three decades,” or even for three months: It was formed only six weeks before Garcetti signed his letter. Articles of incorporation filed with the state show it was formed on June 14, 2017, and is run by Chae out of her apartment.
Garcetti was even warned about Worldwide Star Search shortly before the date of his letter. At Teamsters Local 399’s quarterly meeting July 23 at the Pickwick Gardens in Burbank, he was specifically told that Global One and its showcase weren’t on the up-and-up. He’d been invited to that meeting to discuss national right-to-work legislation and what the Teamsters could do to fight it, but members there had another issue on their minds as well. The local represents casting directors, many of whom were present, and nine of its members have been charged by the city with operating illegal advance-fee talent scams.
“He was asked why the City is prosecuting casting directors but turning a blind eye to Global One and Worldwide Star Search,” said a Teamster who attended the meeting. “He was asked about it specifically, and said he’d look into it.”
Five days later, however, his letter was handed out at the Star Search showcase, along with all the other politicians’ letters of support. And at the top of Garcetti’s, the foundation added, in boldfaced letters: “Words of Support from the Mayor of Los Angeles.”
Garcetti’s press secretary, Alex Comisar, said that “Upon request, our office regularly sends letters to welcome people to events hosted in the City of Los Angeles. The letters posted on the Worldwide Star Search website were intended as a greeting to guests at those events, not as endorsements of the company itself. Mayor Garcetti is disturbed by the allegations that this company has misled its clients.”
City Council president Herb Wesson Jr signed a letter of support for this year’s showcase, and so did City Council president pro tem Mitchell Englander (read it here) and councilmen David Ryu, Curren D. Price Jr., Paul Koretz (here), Buscaino and Bob Blumenfield, among others.
In her letter dated July 28, 2017, Feinstein wrote: “In addition to offering performance workshops, Worldwide Star Search has shown a tireless commitment to building awareness about the problems facing today’s homeless population. There is no doubt that its efforts will continue to benefit countless individuals and families for years to come. As your United States Senator representing the state of California, I applaud the Rejoice in Hope Foundation for their tremendous achievements and contributions.”
On Rejoice in Hope’s website, you can hear actors reading five of the letters.
Deadline reached out to each of the politicians but received no response. None showed up for the event in July, though their letters of support were included in a brochure handed out to parents who had to pay $150 a ticket to attend and another $1,250 for their child to perform for “the industry’s top casting directors and producers.”
“I thought with all those endorsements, they were legit,” said a mother from New York whose daughter is represented by Global One and now regrets having paid thousands to the company.
“When I saw those letters, that told me that this is a legitimate event and a legitimate organization and that they are endorsing it as a good thing,” said Mimi Amatangelo, who paid $1,250 to have her 8-year-old daughter Mia attend the most recent showcase, but didn’t go after finding out that it was a “scam.”
“I called the Mayors’ office, and three or four council members and warned them, and none of them called back,” Amatangelo told Deadline. She’s also filed a complaint with the state Labor Commissioner’s office and wants her daughter’s money back.
“They took $1,250 from Mia,” she said. “She does commercial work here in Chicago and has appeared on Chicago Fire and Chicago Med, neither of which was booked by Global One. That was her money. The last time I talked to Global One I said, ‘You guys are a bunch of crooks. I want my daughter’s money back.’ ”
The Labor Commissioner’s office is currently investigating Amatangelo’s complaint that Global One is operating illegally as an unlicensed talent agency. The contract her daughter signed says that Global One “will make every attempt to get the talent the best possible rate for each booking.”
Booking jobs and negotiating the best pay for talent, however, is something only licensed talent agents are allowed to do under California’s Talent Agencies Act. Global One is not a licensed talent agency.
Genesis Blessing Claims
Global One, in concert with a casting agency called Genesis Blessing Casting – which has no address, no phone number, no website and is not licensed to do business in the County of Los Angeles – claims it submitted child actors for auditions for numerous TV shows, including a commercial for a Disney’s Dream Big Princess initiative.
A casting notice posted by Genesis Blessing Casting seeking “kids and teens” for Disney’s Dream Big Princess initiative is a fake, Disney Channel’s McTeague told Deadline. “After checking in with my colleagues in other divisions and at corporate, I can confirm that this casting agency is not contracted to cast for Disney’s Dream Big Princess initiative.”
“Our employees and casting representatives are not authorized to participate in advance fee talent searches, schools or workshops that evaluate actors on behalf of Disney,” McTeague said. “Disney Channel holds one open audition a year and it’s held in various cities and via a Disney app. Most importantly, the auditions are promoted as ‘official Disney Channel open casting calls’ on our website and social media platforms and there is never a fee and no contract – no payment to anyone for anything related to an audition.”
Many parents told Deadline that they signed their kids with Global One after seeing a casting notice posted by Genesis Blessing Casting. They emailed their kids’ headshots and resumes to the casting agency, and soon got an email from Genesis Blessing to set up an in-home Skype audition. In each case, they auditioned for a woman with a heavy Korean accent who is never seen. Then, several days later, they got an email from Global One seeking to represent their child, saying that “the client is still reviewing your video and will make their decision for this job by the end of the month. We saw potential during your callback video. Global One Management has selected a few talents who we feel have the potential to work in Hollywood. There are many projects in Los Angeles and we would like to consider you for representation.”
A former Global One office manager tells Deadline that Genesis Blessing Casting is just a “fake” email address set up by Chae to make it look like a third party was doing the casting. “It was a front,” he said.
“They would say that this is Genesis Blessing,” he said, “and they would think they’re doing an audition for Genesis Blessing. They’d have them do a Skype audition, and then Global One would contact them and tell that ‘the producers weren’t interested in you but we would like to represent you.’ That was the process. That’s how they got people to join. The way they were getting talent was absolutely through deception.”
Amatangelo claims Global One is an illegal advance-fee talent representation service, which the state’s labor code defines as anyone “who provides or offers to provide, or advertises or represents itself as providing, an artist, directly or by referral to another person, with one or more of the following services described below, provided that the person charges or receives a fee from or on behalf of an artist for photographs, Internet web sites, or other reproductions or other promotional materials as an artist; lessons, coaching, seminars, workshops, or similar training for an artist.”
Global One, she says, does in fact do all of those things. It pressures clients to use its own photographer for headshots – a former photographer, who asked not to be identified, told Deadline he was “hired” by Chae to photograph many of her clients. It pressures clients to pay for classes it offers; it pressures clients to pay $1,250 to participate in its annual showcases, and charges $10 a month to have their photos and resumes posted on its website.
In emails to its clients, Global One says: “If you do not have a Worldwide Star Search account, please go to http://www.worldwidestarsearch.com and click on the picture that says GET DISCOVERED NOW or the word REGISTER. This profile is required to submit your audition and is $10 per month.”
Other parents told Deadline that once they signed with Global One, the pressure began to sign their kids up for classes. They cost up to $700 for six weeks of classes, which by all accounts were good. Clients were also pressured to use Global One’s photographer for head shots packages that could cost up to $1,200. And then they were pressured to enter their kids in the showcase.
There were 47 clients – children and adults – who each paid $1,250 to take part in the last showcase, and Chae dubbed them her “ambassadors” to the homeless. This came as quite a surprise to many of the parents, who hadn’t signed their children up to be spokespersons for somebody else’s charity. One mother whose daughter attended the showcase said that “All Sunny talked about the entire time we were there was her homeless project. My daughter was getting into show business; we weren’t there on a humanitarian mission. I am on the board of a homeless shelter in my local community, and my daughter has served meals there. If I wanted her to do that kind of work, we would have stayed home. They took two people off of skid row, dressed them up, and put them on display.”
SAG-AFTRA’s code of conduct for personal managers requires them to pledge “not to derive personal gain at the expense of any SAG-AFTRA member’s interests including, but not limited to, requiring the member to utilize the services of any particular photographer, printer, school, acting coach, or any other professional in the entertainment industry in which I have a direct or indirect financial (or other) interest.” A conflict of interest exists, the union says, “If the action of the personal manager is, or could reasonably appear to be, influenced by personal considerations or by actual or potential personal benefit/gain, beyond the personal manager’s fiduciary duty and obligation to the member. A personal manager is expected to make decisions in the best interests of his client, and not for personal gain.” Global One, however, has never taken that pledge.
Chae did not return Deadline’s numerous calls for comment. But Ken Dickason, a Global One client who works for her in her home office, said that “Sunny is a very driven woman. She has lots of passion and a big smile every time you lay eyes on her. I haven’t seen her on the streets doing her charity work, but they do videos and she has a great rapport with the homeless.” He said Chae pays him minimum wage, and recently sent him on an audition for a Verizon commercial.
“I’ve been a Global One client for a couple of years,” said Dickason, who was one of the performers at this year’s showcase. “I’ve only been working for them for a couple of months. I’ve been learning how to write grants. It’s fun. It’s a new sort of skill to pick up. I work for the Foundation and with their acting clients. I work with the casting stuff – a website where you submit people for different auditions. Occasionally they get the auditions, but no one’s booked a role yet.”
Jeremy Barnes is another Global One client who works in her office. And while not illegal as long as they’re being paid minimum wage, it’s considered unethical for managers to ask their clients to work for them.
Clinton Ford Billups Jr., national president of the National Conference of Personal Managers, said that “as the nation’s oldest trade association committed to the advancement of personal managers and their clients, NCOPM requires our members to abide by a code of ethics, to avoid conflicts of interest and to comply with local and state statutes and regulations. That does not appear to be the case in this matter.
“NCOPM encourages artists and especially the parents of young artists to thoroughly research any so-called entertainment professional prior to engaging in business. For instance, a quick Google search reveals a number of troubling reviews of Global One Management on the website http://www.BirdEye.com. To quote a centuries-old adage: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’ ”
Billups was also critical of the Labor Commission’s enforcement of its own regulations. “Unfortunately, the California Labor Commission is under-funded, under staffed and ill-suited to conduct an investigation into this matter,” he said, noting that Global One “is not a member, has never applied for membership, and would not qualify for membership.”
“For the past five years,” he said, “the Commission has not even updated its own website listing of Talent Agency Cases and controversies. The California Talent Agencies Act does little to proactively protect young artists as opposed to statutes in New York and other states, which provide artists with significant consumer protection rights.”
“Kids come to Hollywood from all over the world to pursue dreams of stardom. Crooks lay in wait,” said William Hochberg, an attorney at the prominent entertainment law firm Greenberg Glusker. “California’s Labor Commission laws pertaining to scammers masquerading as legitimate acting workshops are a form of anti-fraud legislation that we see in most states, but California tailors its law to the entertainment industry. The rigorous regulations require that legitimate acting workshops and casting services must file a $50,000 bond with the Labor Commission, comply with advertising rules, maintain good records, and refrain from sleazy and prohibited acts like promising to procure auditions without a license. If Global One and Sunny Chae have been taking money up front with promises of procuring acting gigs for these kids and they don’t have a license, they may be in violation of the talent scam prevention act.
“There are two main types of violators of the Labor Code,” he continued. “First, there are the scammers taking money up front with promises of auditions and acting roles. These bad actors can face criminal fines and incarceration. Then there are the unlicensed talent agents who don’t ask for any money up front but seek a commission on the back end. These latter types often do a good job of finding opportunities for their clients, but because they don’t follow the rules and obtain a license, they may find themselves in trouble with the Labor Commission, including having to return commissions.
“On a side note, the Labor Commission is often extremely backed up in pursuing many of its cases. I have waited sometimes many years for them to issue their rulings after a hearing. This doesn’t do anyone any good, including the victims. There needs to be new legislation putting a time limit on when the Labor Commission must issue a ruling. Sixty days would be appropriate.”
Global One On Skid Row
Chae formed the charity that sponsored this year’s showcase just a few days after a visit to skid row, where she met a homeless couple, Sonja Fletcher and her boyfriend Juan, who would become the face of her foundation’s charitable efforts.
Chae found them on the first Friday of June while visiting with her church group, and invited them to her home for supper. Here’s a YouTube video Chae posted of her cooking for them just a few days after she formed her charity.
She asked them whether they’d agree to appear at her Worldwide Star Search showcase, and they agreed. So she took them shopping and bought them clothes; a tuxedo for Juan and a $100 dress for Fletcher. Here’s a video of them shopping and eating at a Korean restaurant.
During the showcase, she put them up for two nights at the Biltmore. Juan sang at the gala and Fletcher gave a speech about life on the streets.
“I talked from the heart about being homeless and how all it really takes is to have one thing pop up and not have the money to pay the rent,” Fletcher told Deadline in a telephone interview. “There are so many people who are so close to being homeless themselves.” Only later would she realize why she and Juan had been chosen. “I think she needed a hurry-up success story for the Foundation, so let’s put a Band-Aid on it.”
Later that night, after being photographed on the red carpet in their new clothes, they were back on the streets, sleeping in their tent. “We took a few photos on the red carpet and then got ready to go back to skid row,” Fletcher said, “although I did stay two nights at the Biltmore, which was really nice.”
That night, in their tent, they could barely sleep. “We talked about that whole weekend,” Fletcher said. “It was quite an experience. When you’re homeless, the last place you’re going to sleep in is the Biltmore. We talked a lot about that, and we talked about getting married.” They’d even set a wedding date – August 12.
On August 4, a few days after the show, Fletcher started working as a volunteer in Chae’s home office, and Chae moved her in off the street to stay with her assistant Marina in her studio apartment. “Then Sunny convinced me to break up with Juan. She told me that God wanted me to choose between staying in a tent with him or moving in with Marina. She said that he’s not listening to God, and if I stayed there, I’d never get off of skid row. She talked me into, but it’s my own fault for listening.”
So on August 9, three days before they were to have been married, Fletcher returned the rings they’d bought. “I haven’t seen or talked to him since the 9th of August. Sonny made me write a note. We had went wedding ring shopping on the first of August. And on the 9th I returned them. We paid a couple hundred dollars for them, and I didn’t want to leave them in the tent. So I took them with me and brought them to Sunny’s. I figured they’d be safer there. Then I returned them to him.”
Marina drove her to Juan’s tent at the corner of Fifth and San Pedro and called for him to come to the car. Fletcher handed him the bag with the rings and some leftovers Chae had cooked for dinner. “I didn’t get out of the car,” she said ruefully. “He hadn’t even looked in the bag before we drove off.” After that, she said, Chae “cut him loose.”
“Juan said she was all about money,” said Dorothy, the woman who introduced him to Chae and ministers to the homeless on skid row. “I tried to warn him when she was trying to recruit him for his musical talents. I tried to warn him about her motives. I told him, ‘Your health comes first. You need to have that surgery.’ He needs a social worker. He’s in pain. He needs surgery. If she was really concerned about him she would have tried to connect him with the right medical people, not use him for her own gain, which is what I think she did.”
In late August, Chae sent Fletcher to a three-day Christian retreat in the mountains near San Bernardino. “It was a pretty nice experience,” Fletcher said. “Somebody from her church paid the $200 for me to go.”
She said she worked 52-hour weeks without any pay during the three weeks she worked for Chae. “I felt like this was a job I wasn’t being paid for,” she said. “She wanted me to eat and sleep Global One.” Most of the “volunteer” work, she said, “was for Global One, not the Foundation.”
She didn’t pay her, but Chae did give her a $1,200 pair of her Chanel sunglasses. Here she can be seen wearing them.
Fletcher says the last time she had a paying job paying job was in 2005. Here she can be seen doing office work as an unpaid volunteer in Chae’s home office. “I haven’t worked in 12 and a half years,” she says in the video, seated at her work station. “I’m actually not as tired as I thought I’d get.”
Her many clerical duties, she said, involved “calling and setting up Skype auditions for possible client representation. Sunny would do the auditions with clients, and I would set up the audition day and time, usually in the afternoons.”
She said that Genesis Blessing Casting “was an email account they had people contacting me from. It’s one of their email accounts. My understanding is that there was an ad of some type looking for people to audition for a homeless public service announcement. People would reply with an email with their phone numbers and a headshot, and Global One would contact them for possible representation.”
Fletcher said she spent much of the last week she worked for Chae “calling the ambassadors – the clients – and telling them about a few ideas we had for the Foundation and wanting to find out if they were going to next year’s showcase and reminding them to make a donation and get an ambassador T-shirt. I was not comfortable with that. I don’t like calling people I don’t know, and people are going to donate if they’re going to donate.”
And while it may not be illegal for managers to ask clients to donate to their pet charity, it certainly raises ethical questions. After all, managers are supposed to help guide their clients’ careers, not hit them up for money.
Here’s a video of Chae asking her “ambassadors” – her clients – to send her their piggy banks and spare change to help the homeless. Fletcher can be seen smiling and nodding.
“That was one of the things she had me calling the ambassadors about – that they should start a piggy bank or a change jar and at next year’s showcase, everyone brings their piggy banks and to show how much a difference we can make together with just our change,” Fletcher said. “I called most of them – 44 of them around the country – all Global One clients. Some of them are adults and a lot are children. I talked to their parents about it. I believe it’s supposed to go to the Foundation to help homeless people, which is a good idea if it’s actually going to help them.”
Fletcher said she also had to appear in videos Chae made for the foundation “because I was the first one they picked up.” But after three weeks, Chae began “complaining that my work wasn’t good enough, and I told her that if it wasn’t good enough, we shouldn’t work together.”
“I think the Foundation has a few good ideas, however, it seems to be more about Sunny Chae and not homeless people,” she said.
That night, she got her things from Marina’s and spent the night in a motel in Koreatown. “I went early in the next morning and took the bus home to Minnesota. Marina wished me well.” She left behind the $100 dress Chae had bought her for the gala. “I left it there. I live in a town of 3,800 people and don’t have somewhere to wear something like this,” she laughed.
She also left behind the fancy sunglasses. The only things she kept, she said, were a paid of sandals Chae had bought her and the $100 “that one of Global One’s clients sent to pay for our wedding license.” And she tried to give that back, too. “When I left, I tried to give it back to her, but Sunny said, ‘No, you keep it, she would want you to have this.’ ”