Does tattoo dispute turn into a court battle: Unlawful, unscrupulous, or reprehensible?

The self-described ‘world’s biggest tattoo brand’ has been accused of infecting a customer with Hep B as well as forging and plagiarising a visa letter to help bring in foreign tattooists.

Documents in court reveal that the company is also accused of forging and copying a visa document flagged as counterfeit by Home Affairs to bring in tattooists from abroad to work unlicensed in Australia.

Brisbane Supreme Court documents show that a female client claims to have been infected by Hepatitis B on January 5th, 2019 at the Celebrity Ink Southport store when she had her tattooed allegedly in an unhygienic manner by an unlicensed artist. The company has denied the allegations and is preparing for court action.

The court documents also reveal that Tattoo brand Celebrity Ink has further been accused of “unlawful, unscrupulous and reprehensible conduct” and forging and plagiarising letters sent to Home Affairs to get temporary activity visas allowing tattoo staff from Thailand to spend up to three months working in Australia, “under pretenses”.

The Thai staff is accused of working at Celebrity Ink without a license to work.

Celebrity Ink Tattoo Franchising Pty Ltd is losing its largest franchisee in Queensland after the details of their ugly split were revealed at court.

John Edward Cohen is the business development manager of Celebrity Ink Tattoo Franchising Pty Ltd., a tattoo franchise company with a tattoo parlor.

James Gordon Banks (32), a millionaire who owns four franchises in Gold Coast and Brisbane has applied with the Supreme Court of Queensland to gain possession of Westfield stores in Coomera Garden City North Lakes. Banks also want to prevent Celebrity Ink from gaining possession of the Logan Hyperdome store.

Court documents show that on February 5, Mr. Banks sent a message to staff telling them “We will no longer be Celebrity Ink. All four of our studios will be transitioning into a new brand, completely separate from Celebrity Ink.”

Lawyers for Mr. Banks state in court documents that on February 6, Celebrity Ink “unlawfully … forcefully and without notice, entered each of the franchise stores and took operational control” including by changing the locks, and communicating with staff.

Mr. Banks says that Garden City Studio has posted a $ 290-890 net profit in the fiscal year 2021-2022.

An email from tattoo exhibition organizer Holly Burgess sent to Celebrity Ink owner Laddwan Cohen and her husband John Cohen on September 20 last year, states that she has been sent a copy of a letter purportedly from her employer Australian Exhibition Groups’ Visa letter that she has used to invite international artists to her tattoo expos held in most capital cities.

Ms. Burgess claimed her letter had been “forged and plagiarised by Celebrity Ink to bring your international artists to Australia under pretenses”.

“Home Affairs flagged your letter as a counterfeit document and because of this, legitimate artists were denied entry to Australia to work at the expos,” Ms. Burgess stated in the email.

“This further confirms that you are using our tattoo expos to gain your international artist’s entry into the country with no real intention of having them attend (expos),” Ms. Burgess stated.

James Gordon Banks, with his wife Melissa Jade Pierce

Ms. Burgess then bans Celebrity Ink from attending expos hosted by the Australian Exhibition Group for breaching “ethical standards”.

In documents filed in court, Mr. Banks describes a conference held between attorneys for Celebrity Ink (the tattoo company) and lawyers representing a woman who alleges she contracted hepatitis B because the tattooists used unsterilized knives, removed their gloves, and placed her hand on various surfaces when inking.

The woman’s barrister claimed during a compulsory conference on October 26, 2020, that closed-circuit television footage taken from inside the Southport store showed the “tattooist failed to adhere to appropriate hygiene practices”, and that she showed symptoms of hepatitis B, 17 days after the tattoo.

During the conference, Celebrity Ink’s lawyer stated that the tattoo could not be the source of the infection because the usual incubation period for the disease was six weeks to six months.

In an affidavit he filed with the court, Mr. Banks stated that the hepatitis B event led to the deterioration of the relationship between him and Mr. Cohen.

In his affidavit, Mr. Banks stated that Mr. Cohen had asked him to cover the legal costs to defend the woman’s claim that she contracted Hepatitis B. Mr. Banks did not own the store at that time.

Mr. Banks claimed this tattoo was performed by an unlicensed artist. However, official records state that Laddawan, 34, is the artist.

A letter from Mr. Bank’s lawyers dated February 1, and filed in court, also accused Celebrity Ink of “deceiving the franchise stores, and Mr. Banks about unlicensed artists” and accused Mr. Cohen of acting as a “shadow director” of Celebrity Ink.

James Gordon Banks, with his wife Melissa Jade Pierce

Celebrity Ink, Laddawan & John Cohen and have not yet filed a defense to the allegations as the case is still in its initial stages.

Both sides agreed on March 1 to postpone the application until a later date, to be determined after June 6.

Mr. Banks stated that he had the financial capability to pay Celebrity Ink damages if necessary. He has business interests worth $2.6m in total equity, an investment property in Ipswich valued at $250,000, $110,000 in car equity, and $400,000 cash.

Celebrity Ink CEO Andrew McCulloch said in a statement that the company “denies all of the allegations in Mr. Banks’ affidavit in the court proceedings”.

“That affidavit was not relied upon in open court and he was not cross-examined on it, as he would have been if the case had proceeded,” he wrote.

“The allegations about unhygienic practices are untrue. As are the allegations to which you refer regarding immigration matters.”

“When Mr. Banks commenced the court proceedings, Celebrity Ink engaged lawyers and the proceeding was resolved on confidential terms,” he wrote.

However, the case is still ongoing as no formal notice of discontinuance – required to resolve a case – has been filed in court.

“It would be unfair to publish the untested allegations made by Mr. Banks in his affidavit which are strongly denied by Celebrity Ink,” he said.

“Celebrity Ink is a very successful business that prides itself on its high standards about all matters including hygiene, immigration, and employment.

“Celebrity Ink’s strict and rigorous hygiene protocols and routines adhere to the Workplace Health and Safety Standards of Australia (WHS), and closely follow all Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines (OHS) as set by the Professional Tattoo Association of Australia.”

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