The #MeToo movement has barely scratched the surface of Hollywood’s internal rot. A new bombshell report from Deadline shows that a law specifically enacted to protect child actors from sexual predators has largely gone ignored since being signed into law in 2012.
Enacted five years ago thanks to the pen-stroke of Gov. Jerry Brown, law AB 1660 protects child actors by requiring “publicists, managers, acting coaches and headshot photographers who work with child actors to be fingerprinted and pass an FBI background check to screen out registered sex offenders.” Should they pass the screening, only then will they be issued a Child Performer Services Permit.
“A Deadline investigation, however, has found that not a single Hollywood publicist who represents child actors has obtained a permit,” reports the outlet. “Dozens of managers, acting coaches and photographers who work with child stars have also failed to comply with the law, which is punishable by a year in county jail and a $10,000 fine. And yet, no one has ever been charged with breaking it.”
The law sought to prevent registered sex offenders from working with children under alias names. Such was the case of Robert Villard, who served as a publicist, manager, acting coach and photographer for many years despite having a laundry list of sex crimes attached to his name.
“In 1987, he was convicted of possessing child pornography, but the conviction was overturned on appeal,” reports Deadline. “He was arrested again in 2001 after a police raid of his home turned up thousands of photos of scantily clad boys in sexually suggestive positions. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to three years’ probation.”
Since Villard operated under the assumed name Bob Moniker, he flew under the radar until being busted again in 2005 for committing a lewd act against a 13-year-old boy, a crime for which he pleaded no contest. He served seven years in prison and it was his release in 2012 that prompted AB 1660 into existence.
“Before this, there was nothing to stop him from returning to the industry and starting the abuse cycle all over again,” said BizParentz co-founder Anne Henry, the lead sponsor of AB 1660. “We wanted something to prevent that from happening.”
Deadline listed a litany of other examples similar to the Robert Villard case:
- Martin Weiss, a personal manager to many young stars, got out of jail shortly before the law went into effect, having served six months after pleading no contest to two counts of oral copulation with an 11-year-old boy whose career he was managing. Like Villard, he too operated under fake names including Maximilian Weiss, Paul Weiss and Menachem Mendel. But if either of them tries to apply under a fake name for a permit to represent child actors again, their fingerprints will give them away.
- Jason James Murphy, a convicted pedophile who’d already spent five years in prison for kidnapping and molesting an 8-year-old boy, was arrested just a few days after Weiss. After getting out of prison, Murphy came to Hollywood, where he worked as a casting assistant and acting coach for child actors. He was arrested in December 2011 for failing to use the name under which he was a registered sex offender, but the judge dismissed the case, saying that Murphy had not attempted to conceal his identity, even though he was working with children under the professional name of Jason James.
- Brian Peck is another registered sex offender whom the law was designed to keep away from child actors. Peck, now 57, was convicted in 2004 of performing a lewd act on a child and oral copulation of a person under 16. His victim was a young boy to whom Peck had been giving private acting lessons at his home. But after spending 16 months in jail, he returned to Hollywood and resumed his career as a dialogue coach for child actors — which the law now prohibits.
Though the law had widespread support among lawmakers and industry insiders, it has received little attention or follow-through. SAG-AFTRA’s COO and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said it was “distressing” that the law has gone largely unenforced.
“The whole point of having this in the first place was to insure that industry people who work regularly with children would be subjected to background checks,” said Duncan.
Deadline searched a database maintained by the state’s Department of Industrial Relations which showed that of the 292 valid permit-holders who are legally allowed to work with child actors, not “a single publicist holds a Child Performer Services Permit.” More from the report:
Deadline has found more than 20 Los Angeles-based publicists who don’t have permits but represent child stars on numerous hit TV shows including Stranger Things, This Is Us, Modern Family, Black-ish, Lost in Space, Revenge and Code Black. Publicists without permits also represent young stars on Nickelodeon’s School of Rock, Henry Danger and Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn, and on the Disney Channel’s Stuck in the Middle and Raven’s Home. They also represented child actors on numerous films including Fences and the upcoming Bumblebee, to name but a few.
“Any manager, publicist, photographer or acting coach who provides services to minors is responsible for complying with the law, which requires them to have a permit,” said Paola Laverde, public information officer for the Department of Industrial Relations, which enforces the law. “If the Labor Commissioner’s office finds a violation or is alerted to businesses working with minors in violation of the permit requirements, it will pass on those names to the appropriate prosecuting agency.”
Personal managers have fared better in complying with law mostly due to the fact that the Talent Managers Association has been encouraging their members to obtain permits for years.
“Our members are definitely aware of the law,” said TMA president Versa Manos. “We’ve sent emails to our members telling them that any manager who works with children must have a permit. We make that very clear. We want to make sure that parents know that their children’s managers are safe and have been cleared by the state. There’s nothing more important than the safety of the children.”
A search in the database revealed that more than 40 managers hold a legal permit, however, an equal number of managers working with child actors do not hold a permit, many of whom have clients working on the titles listed above.
“In other words, publicists and managers all over town are guiding the careers of young performers who they’re legally not allowed to represent,” reports Deadline.