Three aspiring models have been named as plantiffs in a lawsuit against Emmanuel New York Models owner Aristeo Tengco, who allegedly groped his models and withheld their paychecks. Nineteen-year-old Hayden Holt initially filed the lawsuit earlier this month, and was joined last week by her model housemates, 17-year-old Kayla Hill and 17-year-old Jessica Lee. All three women say that Tengco recruited them from small towns, put them up in an apartment on the Upper East Side, and helped land them paying modeling jobs — all while preaching his Christian faith. “All that was great. I was living my dream,” admits Lee. But things got weird when Tengco allegedly groped them during late-night prayer sessions and kept their earnings for himself.
All three girls have creepy-sounding stories about Tengco touching them: “He put his hand on my thigh, and he started talking about God,” says Hill. And although they (understandably) want to get the money they earned for their modeling work, they all say the lawsuit is more about protecting other aspiring models from sexual harassment than it is about procuring the payments Tengco supposedly owes them.
Meanwhile, Tengco’s lawyer says that models have been living with him for nine years and this is the first complaint. But this is hardly a comforting defense, given that this kind of sexual harassment happens to aspiring models more often than anyone would care to admit.