Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office cited the owner of a failed magazine for violating state labor laws, ordering her to pay student writers who were promised scholarship money but never received it.
Officials said Wallis Amanda Mills of Boston filled the online magazine, Enterteenment, with articles written by high school students who believed they would receive college scholarships of up to $5,000 for the work. As many as 40 teens around the country have said they were lured into writing articles for the online magazine and a short-lived print version, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health.
Among them were Adaeze Nduaguba, now a freshman at Dartmouth College. While in high school in Dorchester, she said, she applied for a position at Enterteenment — and accepted one — because it seemed like a good opportunity to start her writing career and earn $5,000 toward her college tuition.
Instead, “it was a charade,” Nduaguba said. “And it was disheartening.”
Coakley’s office ordered Mills, who ran the magazine from a Newbury Street office, to pay $17,000, including $11,300 in repayments to Massachusetts students and $5,700 in fines. Students from other states will not receive money through Coakley’s actions because they don’t live within state jurisdiction.
Mills, 34, admitted in an interview Wednesday that she owed students money but said she also paid for them to take trips, attend events, and go to movies.
A former beauty pageant coach, she said the magazine never took off due to a lack of advertisers, so she funded it out of pocket with money from a divorce settlement. A glossy print version of the magazine appeared in late 2012, featuring stories about the rapper B-Capp and tips on “ways to give back” over the holidays.
Both publications folded in June 2013, according to a story by “Teens In Print,” a Globe publication for teens.
“I had completely good intentions. I failed,” Mills said. “I always wanted to compensate my students.”
Brad Puffer, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Mills had the opportunity to resolve the case before the citations were issued but did not. “As a result, we have issued citations for violations of the state’s labor laws and seek restitution,” he said.
Mills was previously fined $4,400 by Coakley’s office in 2012 for failing to pay three adult workers, state officials said.
Many of the student writers, who worked from home, did not know that others also had not been paid, until one of the writers from Virginia began phoning students and asking them directly.
Students also contacted the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health, which helps workers recover lost wages. The coalition’s peer leader group began working with the students, arranging conference calls so they could exchange stories with one another and state investigators.
The attorney general’s investigation began after the office received multiple complaints from students, with help from the peer leaders.
One of them, Justin Caballero, 17, said many students spoke about repeated and unfilled promises by Mills to pay what she owed. She had been putting some off for years, he said.
“She expected the teens to wait pretty much forever,” he said. “Some of them finally spoke up.”
Alex Bair, 20, an aspiring sportswriter from Medfield, said he wrote more than 20 articles for Mills while a student at the Cambridge School of Weston. Now a student at Wheaton College, he stopped writing in January 2013, but has not received the $3,700 he was promised.
“We’ve all been cheated,” he said.