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Operator of talent agency scam pleads guilty

James Muniz, 44, of Roslyn, the fugitive head

James Muniz, 44, of Roslyn, the fugitive head of a Hicksville modeling agency, was arrested Oct. 15, 2013 in Florida on charges of conning clients out of more than $250,000 by promising high-end jobs that didn't exist. Credit: NCDA

A Smithtown man who prosecutors said built a bogus modeling talent agency that convinced dozens of families that their children could be stars pleaded guilty Thursday to grand larceny and fraud charges and agreed to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars.

James Muniz, 44, chief executive of New Faces Development Center in Hicksville, which is also known as Model Talent Development Corp., pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheme to defraud. He also pleaded guilty to fifth-degree conspiracy, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a news release.

Nassau County Court Judge William Donnino agreed to sentence Muniz to 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison and ordered him to repay victims $236,000. He is due back in court June 20.

"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.

Muniz's attorney, Joshua Ketover of Garden City, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Muniz was arrested in Florida last October after prosecutors said he fled Long Island instead of surrendering himself.

Prosecutors said that between Jan. 1, 2011 and Nov. 30, 2012, Muniz and employees of the firm would approach people in area malls and tell them they or their children could be models. The agency required the clients to purchase portfolios of pictures from the agency. The firm also said that major retailers, such as Macy's, Target and The Children's Place, had been selected for contracts and that the clients needed to pay money to secure their slots, which was untrue, Rice said.

Victims paid between $500 and $5,100, Rice said.

Ada Brown of Roosevelt said she lost close to $5,000 in the modeling scam after her daughter, Alicia, had been scouted at a mall in 2002 at age 19 by a New Faces agent.

"When I think about it I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach," Brown said. "We lost so much money into it."

Brown said she hopes Muniz gets more than just "a slap on the wrist" for his crime, and that he's forced to serve a lengthy prison sentence.

"I'm telling you, the way I feel . . . I hope he rots in you-know-where," Brown said.

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