Enamored with such shows as "Gossip Girl, 16-year-old Alexa wanted to be an actress, so her mother, Maria Best, sent her to a group home for budding child actors in Los Angeles last year.
Best, of Whidbey Island, paid more than $2,000 a month for rent, child care, acting lessons and audition scheduling.
But instead of breaking into the industry, Alexa became one of nine victims allegedly bilked by the home's manager, Bernadette Carter.
This week, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office announced it had charged Carter, 42, with 13 misdemeanor counts, which included scamming children and their families and running an unlicensed group home.
Prosecutors said Carter's clients ranged from 7 to 17 years old. Investigators believe five to 15 children lived in her San Fernando Valley home at any given time, with three adults supervising. "Bernadette really destroyed these kids, as far as their confidence level," Best said Friday. She said she borrowed money to pay Carter and lost $10,000.
In the four months that her daughter lived there, she went on only two auditions, but spent a lot of time cleaning Carter's cat box and hearing threats of being evicted, Best said.
Many parents met Carter at child-acting conventions, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.
"(Parents) are thinking, 'Gosh, I got some big entertainment mogul that's gonna bring me to L.A. and make my kid a star,' " Anne Henry, co-founder of the nonprofit BizParentz Foundation, told the newspaper. The foundation warns against agencies that want money upfront.
Prosecutors say Carter violated a California law that bars agencies from collecting a commission before an artist gets work and from selling classes and other products to clients. The law is intended to protect artists, especially children, from predatory service providers.
P-I reporter Vanessa Ho contributed to this report.