I-TEAM: The beauty business – a lack of justice?
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Georgia’s occupational licensing commission is made up of lawmakers, members of local chambers of commerce and experts in fields that require licenses to work.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger created the Georgia Works Commission in the spring with the goal of streamlining the licensing process.
His office oversees occupational licensing, although our I-TEAM found that division of his office sometimes fails to protect working Georgians and consumers.
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Last year, Liz Owens began looking into one of the professions requiring a license to work: the beauty business.
The complaints against a local esthetics school began more than a year, before Owens even started looking into it.
The allegations sounded crazy – unlicensed instructors, students forced to perform manual labor, transcripts held hostage – and complaints filed with the licensing board against any who spoke up.
Even more outrageous? It went on for years before state officials stepped in. And by the time they did, the owner – as well as the case they formed against her – had disappeared.
“Dismissed without prejudice” are three little words on court papers, but they dealt a big blow to dozens of local women in the beauty business.
We introduced you to Carla last year. She was one of dozens of former students at the Bryan Sexton Esthetics Institute who told us the owners used them as unpaid labor, held their transcripts for ransom and retaliated against anyone who spoke up against their school on Washington Road.
Liz: “Did the system fail you?”
Carla: “I think so ... definitely.”
Krystina Carrino is the owner of Le Salon Day Spa in Evans.
Elizabeth Sexton filed a complaint against Krystina’s massage license after Krystina took on a former student of hers as an apprentice.
Krystina: “The system is extremely – ‘broken’ is not even the word for it.”
“To allow somebody go and file false complaints against you on your board because they’re mad at you and upset with you for the board to take sanctions against people who are innocent and then let someone who did what she did get away with – Oh, yeah, it’s broken.”
Former clients of the medi-spa adjoining the esthetics school also shared horror stories.
The owners, Elizabeth and Bobby Sexton, abruptly closed up shop after a series of investigations by the I-TEAM caught the eye of the attorney general of Georgia.
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Carla: “Nobody has reached out to me. … Still waiting on something to be said. Girls reach out to me and say, ‘Have you heard anything?’ and I say the last I heard, she left town and nothing … just ghost. She just vanished into thin air.”
The I-TEAM located records showing the Sextons purchased a home in Kentucky over the summer.
Elizabeth Sexton allowed her license to expire in Georgia – a move that led to state officials dropping the complaint against her this fall.
Carla: “So, anybody can open a school up in one state get in trouble and get a slap on their wrist – not even a slap on the wrist – then get on the news and pack up your stuff and move to another state and start all over? That’s crazy.”
Kay Kendrick, chair of the Georgia Cosmetology and Barbers Licensing Board, said the court decided not to proceed with the court hearing “basically because the license was basically already revoked.”
“There was no point in using up the time, the money and expense to do the same thing we already done,” she said.
Owens: “Tens of thousands of dollars lost by students, complaints made that she filed false complaints against people who complained about here and tied up their license. … It seems almost criminal to me. Why can’t more be done?”
Kendrick: “The problem is we don’t have prosecuting authority. All we can govern is the licenses.”
Kendrick said the board doesn’t have the authority, and neither would the court that oversees the license.
The board and Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearing can legally only take away or sanction a license.
The Attorney General’s Office represents the board in cases where they do go after revoking a license.
Owens: “Would they not look at all the evidence and say: Hey, this is more than an administrative court thing … let me finish my job with the board and then say, ‘Hey, we need to go after criminal charges.’”
Kendrick: “Someone would have to file criminal charges, and we don’t handle criminal complaints, so they would have had to file a complaint with the county or state as a criminal charge, not a licensing charge.”
The I-TEAM found students did call the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
One told 911: “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 said it was a civil matter.
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What little power the board does have in investigating complaints is further hindered by the lack of resources from the state.
Kendrick: “We have 12 inspectors, and they actually cover the whole state of Georgia and they also cover used cars and funeral homes. … No, we do not have enough inspectors.”
Those 12 inspectors are policing more than 754,000 active cosmetology licenses throughout the state, plus all Georgia used car lots and funeral homes.
Carla: “If you can’t get justice for this, what can you do? It’s like your hand is tied.”
And bound by a broken system
The Georgia Works Commission is talking about removing licensing requirements for certain jobs, like for someone who washes hair for a stylist.
But that doesn’t address the problems we are seeing with too few inspectors or lack of enforcement power.
We reached out to the attorney general’s office and asked when, if ever, they look at a licensing case and determine it’s criminal.
They did not respond.
Another investigation by the I-TEAM ...
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