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Guilty Plea In Hicksville Modeling Scam

The president of a defunct Hicksville modeling agency has pleaded guilty to scamming clients out of more than $236,000 by promising their children modeling and acting jobs that did not exist, said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

James Muniz, 44, of Smithtown, and New Faces Development Center, Inc. (also known as Model Talent Development Corp.), pleaded guilty 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 two-and-a-half to five years in prison and civil judgments totaling $236,000. He is due back in court on June 20.

Muniz admitted 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, said Rice. 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,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

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, said Rice.

Based on these representations of modeling or talent potential, Muniz and other New Faces employees persuaded clients to buy services such as photographs, discs of photographs and placement of photographs on a website known as Gigacomps, the DA said.

Muniz and his co-defendants then induced some 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 ranged from $500 to $5,100.

“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,” 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.”

A five-month joint investigation by Rice’s and Schneiderman’s offices identified approximately 100 victims of the scheme.