A modeling agency preyed on dozens of children with false promises to make them stars, but instead shattered their dreams and left their parents broke, officials said Wednesday.
The agency, New Faces Development Center, “has built a lucrative business by destroying the dreams of hopeful children and defrauding parents of their hard-earned money,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
“Hundreds of families were tricked into believing their child was the next big thing, only to learn they were the next to be scammed.”
Three New Faces employees, Jennifer Santiago, 26, of Queens, Jennifer Diaz-Domenech, 31, of Brooklyn, and Michelle Alperin-Smith, 42, of Nesconset, NY, were arrested on Wednesday for robbery and fraud in Hempstead.
Company CEO James Muniz, 44, of Roslyn, NY, was supposed to visit Wednesday morning, but did not show up as scheduled. A warrant for his arrest has been issued for him, officials said.
Court documents indicate that between 2010 and November 2012, New Faces “scouts” approached young people between the ages of eight months and 18 years old in various public places, including the Queens Center and Roosevelt Field Malls, and told them, or their parents, that they had the right “look” to be successful models.”
They then allegedly used a high-pressure sales pitch, telling their notes that they would be perfect for an ad campaign for one of their high-profile clients such as Toys R Us, Target or JC Penney, but they would need pay a fee before you can go to work.
In reality, New Faces had “no arrangement or agreement with any of the major retailers mentioned to customers,” the documents say.
The scammers successfully chained numerous families for more than a year, charging them hundreds to thousands of dollars, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
In total, they defrauded more than $250,000 from more than 50 customers, according to court documents – and authorities are still investigating another 300 complaints.
“These suspects tapped into something we can all relate to — the love and pride that parents feel for their children,” Schneiderman said.
Maria Rizzo, 26, told the Daily News she and her husband were approached by a scout while shopping at the Galleria in White Plains with their daughter Princess, who was eight months old at the time.
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“A young girl walked up to us and said, ‘Your daughter is beautiful,'” Rizzo shared. She told them her agency was looking for models and asked the Rizzos for their name and number and a few days later they were asked to come in for an interview and photo shoot, Rizzo said. “We were so excited,” she said, Rizzo said.
When they arrived, they were charged $750 for the photo shoot and also told that Princess was perfect for an advertisement in a Children’s Place catalog.
“They said we had to sign a contract with them for a year for $1,000,” Rizzo said. She was told that Princess would earn $350 an hour for the campaign.
The requests for money kept coming, but the work never materialized, Rizzo said.
She requested a refund and reported the agency to the police.
“I’m glad they were arrested,” she said. “Now they can’t do that to other families anymore.”
The Hicksville, LI-based agency, which also used the Model Talent Group name, went out of business late last year.