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Beverly Hills salon owner accused of stealing from celebrity clients in credit-card scam

August 18, 2010 |  3:34 pm

The owner of a Beverly Hills skin care studio was charged by federal authorities Wednesday in connection with an alleged scheme to run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit card charges from celebrity clients.

Maria Gabriella Perez, 51, of Beverly Hills was taken into custody at her salon and residence, Chez Gabriela Studio, 139 N. La Peer Drive, by U.S. Secret Service agents.

Perez, who is expected to make her first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, is charged in a criminal complaint with two counts of access device fraud. If convicted on all counts, she faces a maximum of 25 years in federal prison.

On her website, Perez boasts that her clients include Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, Cher and Penelope Cruz. But she says her salon "has given to all clients, from superstars to normal people, the privacy needed for their own comfort and maximum relaxation since 1986."

Federal officials tell a different story. They allege in a criminal complaint that Perez ran up approximately $68,000 in unauthorized charges on a credit card belonging to a high-end jewelry designer using manually entered credit card numbers.

That designer told investigators that several other high-profile victims said unauthorized charges appeared on their credit cards after they made payment at the studio, the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, a Secret Service agent was told by an investigator with American Express that the company found about  $214,000 in fraudulent charges made by the studio over a five-month period last year on two credit cards that had been issued to an actor.

-- Andrew Blankstein