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Models Say NYC Agencies Fix Fees

June 26, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Some of the nation’s top modeling agencies have violated antitrust laws by inflating and fixing commissions they charge models for finding them work, a lawsuit charged Tuesday.

An industry executive denied the allegations.

The suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan by six little-known models from California, claims that Wilhelmina, Ford, Elite and other New York City-based agencies conspired to maintain matching, nonnegotiable commissions of 20 percent.

The plaintiffs claim that the conspiracy dates to the 1970s, when the agencies secretly hiked commissions _ despite a 10-percent cap set by state law. They also ``worked together to hide that fact from their models ... through sham contracts and other dishonest tactics that have persisted for years,″ the suit said.

Wilhelmina president Dieter Esch said the case has no merit.

``Wilhelmina has never engaged in any price-fixing,″ he said. ``We expect the suit to be dismissed.″

Calls to Ford and Elite were not immediately returned.

Average models ``are given form contracts, which the agencies claim are ‘standard’ and not subject to negotiation,″ the suit added. ``Models who threaten to complain are told they will be blackballed.″

The suit seeks to expose the modeling industry’s ``dirty little secret,″ said Brian Rishwain, a Los Angeles attorney and former model representing the plaintiffs.

``It’s an industry that’s escaped scrutiny for years,″ Rishwain said. ``It turns out the big agencies were abusing the system the most.″

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