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Celebrity spa owner released on bail

August 19, 2010 12:57:46 AM PDT
A Beverly Hills spa owner facing charges that she ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges on her celebrity clients' credit cards was ordered released on $50,000 bond in a federal court appearance Thursday. Her arraignment on two counts of access device fraud was scheduled for Sept. 20. She could receive up to 25 years in federal prison if convicted. Maria Gabriella Perez, 51, opened her skincare studio in 1986, and she has treated celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and many other A-listers ever since. On her website, Perez calls herself a "skin artist," but she's accused of being a con artist.

Authorities claim Perez charged celebrity clients for services they didn't receive and without their knowledge.

"The defendant would keep the credit card information of the celebrity, and then when the celebrity was not present, would manually enter transactions into their credit card," said Wesley Hsu, assistant U.S. attorney.

Perez was arrested on Wednesday at her private salon Chez Gabriela Studio. Sheriff's deputies and Secret Service agents also seized computers and documents from Perez's shop.

Prosecutors claim she ran up at least $280,000 in false charges. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Cher, Melanie Griffith and Liv Tyler were all scammed. Prosecutors allege Tyler was the hardest hit, with $214,00 in fraudulent charges in the span of five months last year on her card.

Perez's attorney, Jerod Gunsberg, released a statement Thursday: "This is a legitimate business, and we fully expect that once all the facts come out that she will be exonerated of all the charges, and she is innocent."

Aniston told "Good Morning America" that she stopped going to Perez about five years ago.

"We had a situation that was not cool, so I sort of just stopped going to her, paid the money and left," she said. "I knew that something like this would eventually happen because there's no way you can get away with that."

Perez has denied any wrongdoing, and her attorney said Perez will be exonerated when all the facts come out.

The salon's website is laden with celebrities giving testimonials, praising the high-priced treatments they've received. Some facials cost upwards of $6,000.

Former prosecutor Robin Sax said celebrities are often the ideal victim in credit-card fraud cases.

"First of all, they have lots of people handling them," Sax said. "You can have an accountant, an assistant, and not only the people handling them, but people who have access to their personal information."


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