I-TEAM: Breaking the bank before they enter the beauty business

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 6:11 PM EST
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MARTINEZ, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Reducing stress on the job, improving finances, and spending more time with family are among the top new year resolutions for 2023.

All reasons workers continue to leave jobs for new opportunities. A career in skin care is especially appealing for nurses burned out from the pandemic, but our I-TEAM found students in the new, growing business are losing time, money, and second careers.

The I-TEAM found there are only five licensed esthetics schools in Georgia. Four opened during the pandemic, including Bryan Sexton Esthetics Institute in Martinez.

The school is the only option for people living around here outside of driving to the next closest school in Columbia, which is where some students did end up after attending classes for nine months here and forking over thousands of dollars.

Andrea Williams was a nurse who wanted to switch from seeing patients to seeing clients, so she turned to esthetics school.

Andrea’s story began a year before she met with the I-TEAM in the summer of 2022.

She enrolled as a student at Bryan Sexton Esthetics Institute in 2021.

The school is located inside the Rosebay Medi Spa on Washington Road.

Andrea entered a payment plan for the nine-month program. Nearly seven-thousand dollars in tuition with deposits and fees all for a price tag of just over ten thousand dollars.

“It actually goes to her husband’s cash app to BD Sexton,” She explains.

State records show Dwain Sexton, AKA Bobby Sexton, and Liz Brian, AKA Liz Sexton are the owners of the school

Andrea says she sent more than $2,000 directly to a Zelle account listed as Bobby Sexton and another two thousand plus to a CashApp account as Dwain and Elizabeth Sexton.

Fast forward to the end of the program: March 21, 2022.

“The next Tuesday after I finished, when I came in I was told not to clock in because I had not finished my hours,” explains Andrea.

The I-TEAM found the Board of Cosmetology requires a thousand-course hour signed off by a certified instructor before a student can qualify to take the state exam to become a licensed esthetician.

Rules and regulations of the board also require instructors to sign off weekly on the hours earned by a student.

“She said I owed 81 hours of services or treatments that needed to be completed before I could continue on, and I also had a balance due for the school,” Andrea says.

The contract she signed contains this clause:

“The Bryan Sexton Esthetics Institute will not release, to any licensing board or other schools, any certified hours or transcripts unless financial and contractual obligations for those hours obtained have been met.”

Andrea filed four complaints with Georgia’s Secretary of State Office, including this one where she writes the owner:

“Did not provide weekly sheets of credit hours current and signed by the student and the instructor … nor did she perform clinical competency checkoffs while in attendance.”

Andrea alleges negligent or fraudulent business practices in her second complaint to the states, specifically with the line items she saw on the invoice from the school.

“When she sent me the invoice, she had tuition amount on it for 25 thousand dollars and a 15,000 CSRA award that I am absolutely not aware of.”

Bryan Sexton Georgia Institute of Esthetics’ website lists several scholarships.

Opportunities, but we found if you click on the links, you’ll read the scholarships are only for students attending accredited schools.

BSEI is licensed by the state but is not accredited. This is the only scholarship they can apply for.

Andrea says she is not aware of applying for any scholarship.

In her complaint to the state, she writes she never applied for or received notice of the award, but somehow, she got it. It’s listed right here on her invoice. It doesn’t decrease the cost of tuition it is more than triple it.

The price of tuition on the invoice is $25,900.

The price of tuition on her contract is $6,806.

Owens sat down with Elizabeth Bryan to learn more about her program.

Liz Owens: “Had students say they never applied for any kind of scholarship, yet they are getting a notification that they received it. Do you automatically enroll?”

Bryan: “As long as they’re a resident of the CSRA, the location then they’re able to receive that.”

Owner Liz Bryan told us donations, and student spa services fund the CSRA scholarship.

Owens: “I guess I am confused because you were saying the total cost of the program is 12-15 but with the scholarship $25,000.”

Bryan: “Right.”

Owens: “Is that just an advertising ploy to be like hey.”

Bryan: “No.”

The invoice Andrea provided to the I-TEAM shows she paid nearly $8,000 in tuition.

“The school said I had a balance. I said well, I don’t deny that I have balance,” says Andrea.

But not as much as they say she owes.

“I decided after that, that I would attend another school. I requested my hours and was handed my hours in my hand, but they were unofficial copies because they were not signed.”

Andrea finished her last 88 hours at another school, and her instructor sent approval to the state for her to take the state board’s exam.

PSI scheduled her for testing on June 9, 2022. They’re a third-party testing company contracted with the state of Georgia.

The day before the test- PSI canceled her testing appointment.

Andrea was dumbfounded. “They claim they sent a letter to explain why it was canceled, and they don’t get involved in student school financial disputes.”

Andrea filed a fourth complaint writing: My account is still disabled. Mrs. Sexton would have to call in and notify them that my account balance had been satisfied before unblocking my account. Where in the rules of Georgia State Board of Cosmetology does it note I can be denied to test due to a financial balance?

“I’ve been licensed for 30 years,” says Andrea. “I have never had a problem with the board not being able to provide information.”

Andrea is a licensed LPN which means she can perform procedures only a nurse can do at a Medi Spa.

She is also a licensed assistant laser practitioner.

Occasionally, she tells the I-TEAM Bryan would ask her to do work for hire.

In her third complaint, she says the owner:

Operated Rosebay MediSpa business during BSEI school hours. Mrs. Sexton pulled me out of level 1 and level 11 classes to perform IV hydration and vitamin injections as a nurse.

Two months after leaving the school, someone reported her for doing IVs as a Laser Practitioner—illegal under a laser license - but legal under her LPN license.

Andrea refused to sign the public order. She demanded a hearing to prove she is licensed to give IVs and to expose a broken system that allows people in the beauty business to retaliate against others in Georgia.

“I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have money. I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything,” says Rachel Jackson. She graduated from school in March of last year.

“I asked Liz about my hours, and she just kept giving me the runaround… I called the PSA, and I called state board. They haven’t had anything sent in for me.”

Jackson showed the ITEAM Bryan sent her a Venmo request for an additional $2,460 payment after Rachel inquired about taking the state board exam to get her license.

Maybe Liz Bryan didn’t send her hours to the state - not because of money owed but maybe because… of what the ITEAM found next. Elizabeth Bryan didn’t even become a licensed instructor until six months after Rachel graduated.

“I guess she really couldn’t even sign off on them,” adds Rachel.

The former student filed a complaint with the state and posted on social media.

“She’s mad. She’s just mad that I got all this started.”

The ITEAM obtained an audio recording of the owner talking about her former student to a class in 2021.

Liz Bryan’s voice: “Rachel is causing a lot involvement with the state board…..I don’t know what’s going to happen, but she is never going to get licensed in the state if I can do that… There is a massage therapist who participated I am after her job right now.”

Krystina Carinno immediately recognizes those exact events.

“That’s me. That’s me. I am a massage therapist. My esthetic instructor and esthetician. And a spa owner.”

Rachel began apprenticing under Krystina Carrino after leaving Bryan Sexton Institute of Esthetics.

And about a month later, the state flagged Krystina’s massage therapy license.

Krystina: “There’s still an open investigation pending against me for unprofessional conduct.”

The state told her Elizabeth Bryan Sexton filed the complaint. Krystina sent this response back to the Secretary of State’s Office:

“I had zero dealings with Elizabeth in regard to anything massage related. What I am attempting to find out from the board of cosmetology as to why I had to take on apprentice, Rachel Jackson, whom Elizabeth took over $10,000 from in her school. Why this young lady has to do an additional 2000 hours to get her esthetics license?”

Nearly three years’ worth of students has gone to the board, court, law enforcement, or private agencies for help.

Krystina explains, “You just can’t just say there’s no answers. But the board doesn’t take these complaints seriously. They really don’t.”

The State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers told the I-TEAM they turned the case over to the Attorney General’s Office and “at this time all board members have been cautioned by the AG to not discuss anything about this case.”

“I am trying to figure out what is going on with the cosmetology and licensing board,” says Andrea. “Are they working on different premises than other boards? I don’t know. Maybe they’re understaffed. I am at the point where forget this esthetics license. Either way, it’s disheartening.”

A system that allows the ugly side of beauty to break bank accounts and people before they can even get into the business.

We reached out to the owners multiple times after first sitting down with Liz Bryan. Neither responded.

Andrea on the other hand did hear from Liz Bryan.

Bryan’s attorney sent her a settlement agreement which states they would release her hours if she would pay part of the money back, remove all negative social media posts, and stay clear from news reporters.

Andrea declined the offer.