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America’s Next Top Liar

CEO of alleged fraud modeling agency caught in Florida

The CEO of a Hicksville based modeling agency charged with scamming families out of hundreds of thousands of dollars has been arrested in Florida, a month after failing to surrender to District Attorney Investigators.

James Muniz, was the president and CEO of the Model Talent Development Center (MTD) and New Faces Development Center, Inc. (New Faces) in Hicksville. The agency was charged with defrauding dozens of clients out of more than $250,000 last month after a five-month joint investigation between the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and New York State Attorney General’s Office. Muniz and three subordinates were scheduled to surrender to DA Investigators on Sept. 18.  Marketing Director and online sales associate Jennifer Santiago, 26, Senior Development Director Jennifer Diaz-Domenech, 31, and Vice President of Operations, Michelle Alperin-Smith, 42, turned themselves in, however, Muniz, 44, fled to Florida.

According to District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Muniz was arrested by DA investigators, with the help of the Florida law enforcement on Oct. 15. He will be brought back to New York and is charged with five counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, 15 counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. If convicted, Muniz faces up to seven years in prison.

“Mr. Muniz has not only added to his legal problems by skipping his planned surrender and fleeing our investigators, but he shamefully attempted to hide while his younger employees stayed to face the charges against them,” Rice said. “Thankfully our partnerships with law enforcement across the country have led to Mr. Muniz’s capture and he can be brought to justice while hundreds of victims continue to come forward in this case.”

“James Muniz has been caught and will now be held responsible for exploiting families across New York,” AG Eric Schneiderman said. “The crimes we alleged in our complaint lodged against him and his co-defendants are a clear-cut scam. My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold fraudsters accountable and to recover every last dime we can in restitution for victims.”

Muniz and his subordinates were charged last month with cheating clients by overcharging them for photo shoots, misrepresenting the terms of contracts, and promising clients lucrative roles and modeling jobs that never existed. Since 2010 and New Faces/MTD’s closing in November 2012, Muniz had his associates act as talent scouts, approaching young teenagers and people with small children in public places and shopping malls and saying they had a “look” that made them likely to succeed in a modeling or acting career. According to Rice, victims were subjected to high pressure sales tactics and told that their children would lose imminent high-paying employment opportunities if they didn’t sign up for contracts, which would cost anywhere from $550 to $3,000. After paying, clients would never hear from the agency again.  Those that were contacted were often told that their children had secured multi-year contracts with retailers such as Macys, Hollister, and Target, but that this would require additional payments that had to be made within 24 to 48 hours. However, the agency had no agreements with the retailers, and the modeling and acting jobs never existed.

New Faces has been on the radar since 2006, when it was owned by Muniz’s ex-wife. The AG's Office initiated civil proceedings against the company in 2006, and New Faces agreed to stop deceptive business practices and paid more than $250,000 in restitution. After receiving numerous complaints, the AG's Office opened a new investigation in December 2012 against Muniz and MTD. The DA began investigations in April 2013, after complaints from clients and MTD employees. The two investigations merged shortly after.

Since the arrests were announced on Sept. 18, the DA’s office has received approximately 300 phone calls from New Faces/MTD clients, leading to 85 new formal complaints that the office is reviewing.

The investigation into New Faces/MTD is ongoing. Anyone who thinks they may have been similarly victimized should contact DA Rice’s Complaints Unit at 516-571-3505 or the Attorney General’s Office at 516-248-3301.