A Star is Scorned

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Supermodel Naomi Campbell was discovered strolling down the street, but most agents find talent the easy way: They place an advertisement and let the beautiful people come to them.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation has filed an administrative complaint against Tampa talent agency Model 2000 as a result of four consumer complaints. The company is also under investigation by the Tampa Police Department and has been taken to small claims court, where a decision in that case has not been reached.

Agent Nancy Sniffen has owned Model 2000 for five years and has placed ads in Weekly Planet for almost as long. The ads usually ran on the back page of the paper commanding, "ACT/MODEL NOW!!!" Readers who loved the camera, had cute kids or were attractive themselves should give Model 2000 a call, according to the ad, because the agency was looking for them.

Spencer Borisoff told state investigators that he answered the Planet ad by going down to the agency in person. On his first visit, an employee of Sniffen's assured him he was just what they were looking for.

Borisoff didn't sign on with the agency at that time. But several months later, he came back and met with Sniffen.

According to state records, Sniffen told Borisoff that he had "a great look" and that there was plenty of work out there for his type. In fact, the case file states, Sniffen encouraged her new client to get photos made right away so that she could send them to JCPenney, Home Shopping Network and Bealls Department Store.

Borisoff paid $900 for the photos, but his "great look" didn't land him any modeling gigs.

Sniffen claims she never told him they would.

Although her ads used to run in the employment section of The Tampa Tribune, Sniffen says she's not operating an employment agency. She merely sends photographs to people looking for talent and acts as a go-between if an audition for a paying job comes up.

"There isn't an agency in this country that will guarantee jobs," she said.

In fact, Sniffen has clients who use her photography services sign a document outlining what the service includes. The document states, "This transaction is not to be construed in any manner as a guarantee of employment."

Borisoff does appear to have signed such a document.

But the lack of work wasn't the only issue. There was also the $900 fee for photographs.

A charge for professional photos is where stardom seekers can fall into a trap, according the Florida Blue Sheet, a newsletter for the talent industry. While good quality pictures are definitely a plus in entertainment and modeling, the publication advises, good quality agents won't pressure you to buy them.

If agents insist that buying photos from their agency is the price you have to pay to sign on with them, alert the authorities. That's against Florida law.

Sniffen insists that clients are free to use any photos or photographer they want. "I don't require them to get them done with me," she said. "Just get me something so I can get your picture out."

However, Sniffen does make a profit for arranging the photos herself, she admits. She books a photographer, makeup artist and hair stylist, she said, and she even purchases the film.

Sniffen sees nothing wrong with making money this way, as long as she still does the work of an agent and tries to book clients in jobs to the best of her ability. She receives 20 percent of clients' earnings when they finally do get work, so the motivation to act on their behalf isn't gone after they purchase the pictures, she said.

Still, Borisoff is joined by three other clients who claim Model 2000 is misrepresenting its services.

According to Sniffen, those clients are disappointed because they didn't become stars overnight. It took her eight months to find work for her own son, she said.

If state regulators find that Sniffen deceived her clients, her license to run the agency could be revoked and she could be ordered to pay restitution in addition to fines of up to $5,000 for each complaint.

A hearing on the matter has not been scheduled, but the verdict may already be in on Model 2000.

The Planet no longer accepts the agency's ads and neither does the Tribune, said Sniffen. And that could mean the end of her business.

"It's a joke," Sniffen said of the Planet's decision to drop her ads. "You have strippers and everything else in that paper and Ican't advertise with you?"

Stripper ads aside, the Planet has to consider its readers and some of them have complained about Model 2000, said Gia Coppi, operations manager for the paper's corporate parent.

To date, the paper hasn't taken steps to investigate the veracity of the complaints. But the small-claims case and the state investigation point to a potential problem. "There's obviously an issue here," said Coppi.

Contact Staff Writer Rochelle Renford at 813-248-8888, ext. 163, or rochelle. [email protected].

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