In February, 2004, SAG was contacted by a concerned member of the acting community about a potential voucher scam being perpetrated on aspiring actors through a popular Internet jobs board. The Guild opened an investigation and began methodically gathering evidence. On Monday, July 19, L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo announced 14 charges against Thyvronn Hill, doing business as “RJ Productions,” including 10 counts of false advertising, two counts of petty theft, operating a business without proper registration and unauthorized use of a trademark or label.
While scams have long been rumored to prey on the hopes of aspiring actors eager to secure a coveted SAG membership card, this case marks the first time that the Guild has been able to assemble sufficient concrete evidence to merit a criminal prosecution.
Specifically, the scam falsely promised non-union actors a voucher, three of which are necessary to attain membership in SAG, if they agreed to be an “audience filler” at 10 tapings of shows involving live studio audiences. Each time the unsuspecting actor attended a taping, they were given a document noting their attendance. Once 10 such documents were accumulated, they were given a fraudulent “SAG Voucher” that falsely claimed to be good for membership in the union.
Mr. Hill was paid between $7 and $20 by audience filler companies for each person he delivered to a studio audience. He regularly advertised for non-union actors using the popular website craigslist.com. During the course of its investigation, the Guild was able to observe Mr. Hill conducting his scam. Two non-union actors who contacted SAG with questions regarding Mr. Hill’s offer also provided pivotal details and documentation of illegal conduct. Once the Guild provided authorities with the evidence it had compiled, the City Attorney moved quickly to assemble a strong case for criminal prosecution.
SAG is grateful to the City Attorney for taking a strong stand to protect both working and aspiring actors. SAG urges all aspiring members to know the three legitimate routes to membership in the Guild: (1) securing a principal role in a film, television show, commercial or other production conducted under a SAG contract; (2) securing three background roles in productions conducted under SAG contracts; or (3) through membership and meeting a specific work requirement in a sister union, such as AFTRA or Actors’ Equity. SAG membership is not obtainable by any other means, and the Guild encourages aspiring members to bear in mind the truth of the old saying: “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”
Anyone who believes they may be the victim of a membership scam is encouraged to report the incident to firstname.lastname@example.org or to contact the union directly at (323) 549-6806. You can learn more about legitimate avenues to SAG membership on the Guild’s website at www.sag.org.