Mineola, NY - July 14, 2014 - Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that the ringleader of a child modeling scam and the corporation of which he is president were sentenced today for scamming 100 clients of more than $236,000 with promises of lucrative modeling and acting jobs that did not exist.
James Muniz, 45, of Smithtown, and New Faces Development Center, Inc. (also known as Model Talent Development Corp.), were sentenced today to 2-1/2 to five years in prison by Nassau County Court Judge William Donnino. Muniz and the corporation pleaded guilty to two counts of Grand Larceny in the 3rd Degree (a D felony) and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the 1st Degree (an E felony). Muniz also pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy in the 5th Degree (an A misdemeanor).
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. Some of the cases against those defendants are pending.
“With one broken promise after another, James Muniz and his accomplices turned the hopes and dreams of parents for a better life for their children into a money-making enterprise based entirely on taking advantage of others for a quick buck,” DA Rice said. “It is my hope that with this sentence, these families will receive solace knowing that the man who deflated those hopes will be spending significant time behind bars.”
“James Muniz used his business to prey upon proud, loving New York parents, even after the company was prosecuted civilly for committing similar offenses years earlier,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “His sentence sends the message that those who take advantage of unsuspecting New Yorkers will be held accountable. My office will continue working diligently to prosecute fraud, and seek restitution for those who have been victimized.”
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 into purchasing 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. Victims were also promised refunds that Muniz and his employees never processed.
Muniz and his subordinates were charged in September 2013 after a five-month joint investigation between DA Rice’s office, the New York State Attorney General’s office, and the AG’s Nassau Regional 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 was also sentenced to six months in jail by Judge Donnino in May after pleading guilty 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.
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 former Assistant Attorney General Victoria Safran investigated and prosecuted the New Faces case. Safran was cross-designated as an Assistant District Attorney for the purposes of this prosecution for the AG’s Office.
Assistant District Attorney D.J. Rosenbaum of DA Rice’s Special Victims Bureau is prosecuting the criminal contempt case.
Muniz is represented by Joshua Ketover, Esq.
The charges against any of the remaining defendants are merely accusations and the remaining defendants are presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.