Mineola, NY - May 16, 2014 - Rice announced that a Suffolk County man and the corporation of which he is president pleaded guilty today to scamming clients out of more than $236,000 by promising their children modeling and acting jobs that did not exist.
James Muniz, 44, of Smithtown, and New Faces Development Center, Inc. (also known as Model Talent Development Corp.), pleaded guilty today before Nassau County Court Judge William Donnino to two counts of Grand Larceny in the 3rd Degree (a D felony), and one count of Scheme to Defaud in the 1st Degree (an E felony). Muniz also pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy in the 5th Degree (an A misdemeanor). Under the plea agreement, Muniz faces 2-1/2 to 5 years in prison and civil judgments totaling $236,000 will be issued on behalf of the victims. He is due back in court on June 20.
Muniz admitted to the court that he committed these crimes acting in concert with his co-defendants, Michelle Alperin-Smith, 43, of Nesconset; Jennifer Diaz-Domenech, 31, of Brooklyn; and Jennifer Santiago, 26, of Jamaica. The cases against those defendants are pending.
“James Muniz built a fraudulent business by cynically exploiting something all Americans can relate to – the love and pride parents feel for their children,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The crimes he admitted to today will send him to prison, where he belongs, and my office will continue to work with our partners to hold fraudsters accountable and recover restitution for victims.”
“This defendant, along with his employees, ran a company that was based solely on preying on the desire of parents to give their children a better life – one filled with money, success, and stardom,” DA Rice said. “Our offices will continue to fight to recover the money owed to these families, and to bring anyone responsible for this despicable scam to justice.”
Between Jan. 1, 2011 and Nov. 30, 2012, Muniz, along with his co-defendants, approached adults with children and unaccompanied teenagers in Roosevelt Field Mall, Queens Center, Smithtown Mall and other public places and told them that the children or teenagers had modeling or talent potential.
Based on these representations of modeling or talent potential, Muniz and other New Faces employees would persuade clients to purchase services such as photographs, discs of photographs, and placement of photographs on a website known as Gigacomps.
Muniz and his co-defendants then induced some of their clients to enter into multi-year agreements with New Faces by making false representations that the company had agreements with major retailers such as The Children’s Place, Target, Toys R Us, and Macy’s, and falsely representing that the clients’ children had been selected for multi-year contracts with said major retailers. The defendants also told clients that if immediate payments were not made, the clients would lose those opportunities.
The losses incurred by victims in this case ranged from $500 to $5,100.
Muniz and his subordinates were charged in September 2013 after a five-month joint investigation between DA Rice’s office and the New York State Attorney General’s office. The investigation identified approximately 100 victims of the scheme.
DA investigators arrested Muniz in October 2013 in Florida, where he fled after being charged in the case. He later waived extradition and returned to New York to face charges. A Nassau County grand jury subsequently indicted Muniz and his co-defendants.
Muniz also pleaded guilty today before Judge Donnino in an unrelated case to Criminal Contempt in the 2nd Degree (an A misdemeanor) for violating an order of protection for his then-wife in 2011. He will be sentenced to six months in jail, and is due back in court for sentencing on May 22.
Diane Peress, chief of DA Rice’s Economic Crimes Bureau, Marshall Trager, chief of DA Rice’s Government and Consumer Fraud Bureau, ADA April Montgomery of DA Rice’s Economic Crimes Bureau, and Assistant Attorney General Victoria Safran are prosecuting the New Faces case.
Safran is cross-designated as an Assistant District Attorney for the purposes of this prosecution and is also handling any civil matters regarding New Faces for the AG’s Office.
Assistant District Attorney D.J. Rosenbaum of DA Rice’s Special Victims Bureau is prosecuting the criminal contempt case.
The charges against the remaining defendants are merely accusations and the remaining defendants are presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.