I-TEAM: A costly lesson on the ugly side of beauty
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Who doesn’t want to look their best for the holidays? A little Botox or laser treatment can help us look refreshed and even younger.
However, the I-TEAM found lawsuits against estheticians are rampant. Skin care specialists are the third most targeted group of medical malpractice lawsuits, due to a growing number of untrained or uncertified estheticians.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for skin care specialists to increase by 17 percent over the next few years. But conflicting regulations and weak laws make getting into the business a confusing process, and local students are losing thousands of dollars on a substandard education.
“Just the health of the skin – acne-prone skin, mature skin – that I want to tackle … and make people beautiful,” Carla Posadas said.
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She felt good when she moved from the field of dentistry in Texas to the field of esthetics in Georgia.
“The pandemic was kind of an opportunity to do something new,” she said.
COVID hit when Raegan Wedin graduated from nursing school.
“After a while, it becomes a very big burnout, and I was ready to do something different,” she said.
“I found this school in Georgia because my husband is deployed here, so I was like, ‘Why not go to school while he is in school?’”
Part-time or full-time classes, nine- or 11-month programs, and 1,000 coursework hours.
The I-TEAM found the Bryan Sexton Georgia Institute of Esthetics is the only esthetics school in Augusta. Documents from the school state the “program prepares the student not only state board licensing requirements but also for the professionalism needed in today’s skincare work environment.”
Raegan says what she found was not what she expected.
“Day three, I pretty much wanted to quit,” she said.
She and Carla say nothing prepared them for what was behind the door of Rosebay Medi Spa on Washington Road home to Bryan Sexton Georgia of Institute of Esthetics.
Carla said she quickly saw red flags.
“I noticed a lot of miscommunication between both instructors,” she said.
As did Raegan.
“There is not a lot of learning going on, that’s for sure,” she said.
“A lot of times, she wasn’t even found. We were like, ‘Where is Elizabeth?’” Posadas said.
Elizabeth Bryan is the owner of the school and the spa. She agreed to sit down with the I-TEAM for an interview.
We asked how many certified instructors she has teaching here.
“Right now, I have one,” she said.
Liz Owens: “And that’s you?”
“Yes,” she answered.
Carla provided the I-TEAM with receipts to show the first month she paid nearly $1600 dollars plus another $200 in June. And again, in June she paid another $1058.78 for a total of nearly $3000.
Raegan says she paid more – much more. The receipts she provided show she paid close to 11 thousand total with the deposits.
But Carla and Raegan say they didn’t feel like paying students. They felt like unpaid workers.
“Everybody would be like what did you do today in class? I cleaned. What do you mean you cleaned? I folded laundry. I swept.”
The student contract clearly outlines their responsibilities to sanitize and sweep around their workplace. Store personal items in a locker.
They say the work they did for Bryan went way outside the lines of the contract.
“We were told to come in clothes we didn’t care about dingy clothes because we were going to paint and clean up this back room.”
“We’ve done a lot of folding of family’s laundry.” They both give examples. “Shirts, socks and there was always a pair of boxers … always a pair of boxers.”
We asked Bryan about those claims. “I am not familiar with that -- as far as laundry for family, they’re not unless they’re washing their own laundry while they’re here.”
Owens showed Bryan pictures the I-TEAM obtained. “This is some laundry - your husband’s underwear right there.”
Bryan: “I don’t have an answer for you with those.”
Owens: “Here they’re painting what are they doing here? Is that part of the program?”
Bryan: “These are students, well two of them are here and two have left. They’re helping to support. They’re volunteering to help, so we don’t force a student to paint the walls or force them to do something beyond what they’re doing.”
Owens: “That was during instruction time?”
Bryan: “That was during volunteer time.”
Raegan says the non-instruction time added up. “I probably put 200 hours in cleaning; that’s not even an exaggeration.” She withdrew and applied to another school an hour away, losing the full tuition amount she paid upfront. “At this point, I am having to pick up a job in order to pay another $10,000 for the school I wanted to go to for the education that I wanted in the first place.”
Carla paid her tuition by the month. She paid for the month of June and then sent a withdrawal letter later that month.
Carla says she still does not have her transcripts.
“I do not have anything. She has not provided me with anything,” she said.
Bryan told Carla she owed for July and until she paid up she would not get her transcripts. Carla tried to talk to Bryan twice afterward.
First with her boyfriend. They shared the audio recording with the I-TEAM.
Carla’s boyfriend on tape: “Just to verify - she shouldn’t have a balance due.”
Bryan Sexton School: “She would for July because I had no notice.”
Carla’s boyfriend: “She did give notice beforehand. She shouldn’t owe for balance.”
Bryan Sexton School: “I didn’t get notice. I got an email. I was waiting on documentation which was sent while we were on break, closed.”
She returned a second time with her sister. She again took an audio recording and shared it with the I-TEAM.
Bryan: “She needs to complete her balance pay for her transcripts and they will be sent to her. Is that clear enough?”
Carla’s sister: “So bottom line, the transcripts are being held hostage for money that you feel is owed to you.
Bryan: “Those aren’t my words, ma’am.”
Carla’s sister: “No, you are exactly right. They are my words and those are the action that is happening that I am seeing.”
Bryan: “Once Carla takes care of her invoice, it won’t be a problem.”
Carla’s sister: “Well, she won’t be taking care of her invoice.”
Bryan: “Well, that is fine. She won’t be receiving any transcripts.”.
The I-TEAM’s Liz Owens pressed Bryan for more about her school and how it operated.
Owens: “How many students have you had since opened and how many have actually completed and gotten their certification?”
Bryan: “I can tell you we have a 100% pass rate, and I can give you the information. I have to look it up to make sure it’s correct for you. I can certainly do that.”
We followed up with Elizabeth Bryan three times about the information she promised to provide after the interview.
She did not send it to us, but she did post a promotional video on Facebook later outlining, “We graduated about a dozen students who have completed and got their licenses and gotten jobs.”
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office could not confirm graduates who became licensed from her school.
They found licensed instructors would teach at the school from time to time.
Other times, Bryan herself was the only instructor there.
The I-TEAM obtained a recording of Bryan’s explanation to a class in 2021 when they discovered she wasn’t a licensed instructor.
Student: “I do have one concern because we are trying to get licensed for Georgia …”
Bryan: “And you will.”
Student: “But if you haven’t … if the last instructor was here in September and I started in October?”
Later in the 2021 recording …
Bryan: “Everything up to this point would be said it was virtual. And it would be crazy for you to say anything different because then you are going to jeopardize your hours. I am not asking you to lie but we did go virtual, right? There were times you were online, right? So, what is the problem? All it is is a small loophole.”
The I-TEAM found Elizabeth Bryan eventually did get her instructor’s license, 20 months after first opening the school, through what appears to be a licensing loophole.
Georgia and South Carolina will accept a license from the other, which is called an endorsement. Georgia granted Bryan her esthetician instructor’s licenses based on her holding an instructor’s license in South Carolina. However, South Carolina records show she got her instructor’s license in the Palmetto State is based on her having an instructor’s license in Georgia.
The 2021 audio recording gives more insight.
Bryan: “It takes a lot of calls to say I was wrong, and I made mistakes, and I could have continued to lie to you.”
Students have tried to involve law enforcement. The I-TEAM obtained the recorded calls to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
Dispatcher: “Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. Henderson. How can I help you?”
Caller/Student 1: “I was a student at school here in Columbia County and we haven’t been in class, and we have been asking for a refund for months and she has been pretty much dodging us.”
And we found another call to the Sheriff’s Office.
Caller/Student 2 “Nine months and paid all of the money and everything and at the end, we had a whole graduation and the lady told me and another girl that she sent in our paperwork to the state board. And come to find out she wasn’t even certified to be teaching so she couldn’t send our paperwork in and we already paid this lady $10,000-$12,000. She blocked me on everything and I can’t get in contact with her.”
Deputies told them it was a civil matter.
The I-TEAM found those who did take it to civil court had their cases dismissed due to an arbitration agreement in their student contract preventing them from suing Elizabeth Bryan and Bryan Sexton Georgia Institute of Esthetics.
Bryan to the I-TEAM’s Liz Owens: “If someone is disgruntled or unhappy, they’re going to paint a …”
Owens: “There is a state investigation.”
Bryan: “I’m not aware.”
Owens: “You are not aware?”
Bryan: “No, ma’am.”
The chairman of the Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers confirmed to the I-TEAM that there is an open investigation into the school.
The I-TEAM asked Regan if she was kicking herself with regret.
“Yes,” she answered. “A lot actually. Yeah.”
Carla also shared her regrets. “I believe she is getting one over on people who genuinely want to learn esthetics and going there with excitement- they want to go to school they want to learn but then they’re getting this instructor who is not teaching them anything that is getting their money.”
It’s a high price to pay for the ugly side of beauty.
We reached out a fourth time to Bryan after our interview with her. She did not answer us but told us in our interview that her goal is to provide the right training in order for students to become certified estheticians. We are still digging into this and will keep you updated.
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