Four employees of a Hicksville modeling agency scammed more than $250,000 from parents they met at area shopping centers by promising to get their children high-end modeling jobs that didn't exist, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The employees told hundreds of parents that their children had "the look," prosecutors said.
"In reality, everybody had 'the look,' " Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said at a news conference in Mineola with state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to announce charges against four people.
The prosecutors said they have identified 50 victims to date and are looking into complaints from more than 300 clients of the Model Talent Development Corp., also known as New Faces Development Center. A dozen of the 50 victims are from Long Island, they said.
"This scam is nothing short of despicable. These suspects exploited something we all can relate to: the love and pride a parent feels about their child," Schneiderman said.
Brooklyn resident Michelle Moline said after the news conference that she was conned out of $1,500 after being solicited at the Queens Mall last year. She said her teen daughter felt "hurt" at being conned into thinking she had model-like good looks.
"You know teenagers at that age are vulnerable. They are very self-conscious," she said.
The victims would be persuaded to fork over a minimum of several hundred dollars, and sometimes several thousand dollars, for an initial photo shoot, the prosecutors said.
The parents would later be conned out of more money, as much as $10,000 from some victims, once convinced that a major department store or fashion designer had offered them a long-term modeling contract, prosecutors said.
All four were charged with grand larceny and face up to 7 years in prison, if convicted.
Jennifer Santiago, 26, of Jamaica, Queens, the marketing director and online sales representative; Jennifer Diaz-Domenech, 31, of Brooklyn, a senior development director, and Michelle Alperin-Smith, 42, of Nesconset, vice president for operations, were released on their own recognizance after being arraigned Wednesday in First District in Court in Hempstead.
The agency's president and chief executive, James Muniz, 44, of Roslyn, failed to surrender as scheduled Wednesday and a warrant was issued for his arrest, Rice said.
Schneiderman said an earlier version of the firm, called New Faces, which was owned by Muniz's ex-wife, was the target of the attorney general's office years ago. That firm agreed to cease deceptive business practices and paid $250,000 in restitution, he said.
Both officials said there were many other victims who had not come forward, and they asked anyone who had been conned to call the district attorney's office at 516-571-3505, or the attorney general's office at 516-248-3301.