Mendive was intrigued in late spring when she received an e-mail from eModel.com, a business that posts pictures and vital statistics of would-be models on its Website. After the company invited her to a group interview in Miami Beach for a position as a model scout, she accepted a job. Mendive has the right appearance to work with beautiful people: She's a striking woman of Cuban descent, model-like svelte with facial features so sharp they could be drawn only with a freshly whetted pencil. But she quickly concluded the company was employing highly manipulative methods in both attracting scouts and signing up models. "It made me ill," she declares. By mid-June she was calling her recruits and advising them to abandon eModel.
Mendive is far from alone in her discontent. Online bulletin boards and discussion groups are rife with complaints. The Better Business Bureau has little positive to say about eModel. Some of the nation's most established modeling agencies -- eModel's ostensible customers -- don't even use the service. Critics say the company gouges prospective models by playing on their vanity and dreams of superstardom.
Although eModel is just one year old and incorporated in Florida only five months ago, the company's president and chairman of the board, Cortes W. Randell, has a lengthy and not-so-illustrious past. In 1966 Randell founded National Student Marketing Corp. The company's stock soared for the next several years, but after it took a steep plunge in price, he resigned as president in 1970. Following an investigation of his role in the stock crash, prosecutors alleged that Randell had misrepresented the company's earnings. He pleaded guilty in 1975 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stock-fraud conspiracy and three other counts of fraud. (Investors sued Randell in civil court and were awarded $35 million.)
In 1979 Randell had more legal troubles, this time stemming from his involvement with the National Commercial Credit Corp., a real-estate investment firm that went bankrupt. A federal jury convicted him of mail and stock fraud, interstate transportation of stolen funds, and submitting a false loan application to the Veterans' Administration. Randell was sentenced to seven years in prison and released in 1984. That same year he became president of Federal Information Systems Corp., parent company of the highly successful Federal News Service, which sells transcripts of Washington, D.C., briefings, press conferences, and hearings.
Like the Federal News Service, which many inside the Beltway lauded as a why-didn't-I-think-of-that? idea, eModel.com appears to capitalize on a simple concept. Here's how the pitch is made to would-be models: For years up-and-comers have made the rounds from agency to agency looking for work and handing out hundreds of expensive photos. (In the trade they're called composite cards.) But now there's a better way. For about $400 in Florida (it's costlier in some locations), eModel uploads a couple photos of a client onto its Website, where agencies can take their pick. A database allows agencies to pick models by location, height, weight, hair color, body type, and other variables. For no cost eModel provides a model's contact information to an agency, which can then negotiate directly with the candidate. A $20 monthly fee keeps the photos posted.
Trouble is, it's not as rosy as all that. "The whole thing fundamentally, from beginning to end, is a scam," says Bill Mitchell, president of the Greater Los Angeles Better Business Bureau. "There really isn't that much work that's going to be obtained by signing up with this company." The Los Angeles BBB rates the company's performance record unsatisfactory.
Cautionary tales abound on the Internet. On ezboard.com a writer, "maidmarion," shares that "after 8 months of being on their web site, I have yet to receive ONE phone call from a customer interested in having me model for them." (New Times could not reach "maidmarion" for elucidation of the comment.)
Even though eModels proffers a dozen glowing testimonials on its Website, they don't come from agencies likely to shepherd the next Cindy Crawford to fame. "Because we are located on the western edge of Missouri, eModel has allowed us to scout models in surrounding areas that we might have missed," gushes Greg Wade of F/M Models. Other words of praise come from supermodel hubs such as New Haven, Connecticut, and Boston.