A Hicksville-based modeling agency has been accused of defrauding dozens of clients out of more than $250,000 by allegedly overcharging for photos, misrepresenting contract terms and promising clients jobs that never existed.
James Muniz, who was president of the Model Talent Development Center (MTD) and New Faces Development Center, Inc. between 2010 and 2012, had scouts approach teenagers and families with children at Roosevelt Field Mall, among other public places, to lure them in with alleged false promises of fame and fortune, authorities said.
“Hundreds of families were led to believe that their child was the next big thing, only to learn that they were just the next in line to be scammed,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kaltheen Rice, who announced Wednesday the results of a five-month joint investigation with the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of the 44-year-old Roslyn man on charges of grand larceny and scheme to defraud. Three of his employees, 26-year-old Jennifer Santiago of Queens, 31-year-old Jennifer Diaz-Domenech of Brooklyn and 42-year-old Michelle Alperin-Smith of Nesconset, have been arrested on the same charges. The companies are facing the same charges and up to $10,000 fines as well.
Prosecutors said scouts for the two companies, which closed last November, told victims they had the “look” to succeed in modeling or acting, would not be charged for the companies’ services and that only a few were offered such opportunities through the agencies—but scouts signed up anyone who’d pay for contracts costing $550 to $3,000.
Attorney General’s office had sued the company in 2006, when it was known as New Faces and owned by Muniz’s ex-wife, resulting in the agency paying more than $250,000 in restitution.
This time, the scouts allegedly misrepresented the agencies’ affiliation with celebrities, exaggerated the employment opportunities it offered and told some clients that their children secured contracts with major retailers such as Macy’s, Toys R’ Us and Target—as long as they paid thousands for contract extensions with the agency within 24 hours.
The agency never had arrangements with the companies and the promised contracts never materialized, prosecutors said. Other clients often went months without ever getting a call from the agency, never mind a job. The agency mostly provided photo services for additional fees.
The three suspects are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday at First District Court in Hempstead. They each face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
The investigation is continuing and prosecutors ask anyone who thinks they may have been similarly victimized to contact the district attorney’s Complaints Unit at 516-571-3505 or the Attorney General’s Office at 516-248-3301.