MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The CEO of a Long Island modeling agency suspected of scamming clients out of thousands of dollars has been arrested in Florida, authorities said.
James Muniz, 44, of Roslyn, was taken into custody Tuesday in Hialeah, Fla., by investigators from the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and officers with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hialeah Police Department.
A spokesman for District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Muniz is being held in the Miami-Dade County jail and is awaiting extradition to New York. It was not immediately known if he has an attorney.
Hicksville-based Model Talent Development Corp, which also operated under the name New Faces Development Center, Inc., is accused of scamming families out of $250,000 by promising children high-paying modeling jobs.
The arrests followed a five-month joint investigation with the state attorney general’s office.
Three employees of the agency turned themselves in to authorities last month. Muniz also agreed to surrender, but fled instead, prosecutors said.
Rice said last month that the agency scammed 50 families out of $250,000. Her office said it has received 300 calls from additional suspected victims since revealing the scam.
“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 in a statement “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.”
Talent scouts targeted teens and children at shopping malls, beaches and other public places and told them that they had “the look” for modeling or acting, prosecutors said.
Michelle Molene, of Brooklyn, said she was scammed out of $5,000 after agents approached her 14-year-old daughter at the Queens Center Mall.
“They told her ‘you could be good for modeling,'” Molene said. “She gave them her phone number.”
Molene said the agents then disappeared after taking deposits for photo shoots and contracts.
Delora Castro of Forest Hills said she was scammed out of $6,000 after agents approached her 18-year-old daughter at the same mall.
“They said, ‘You’re very beautiful,’ and they asked my daughter, ‘Would you be interested in a modeling career?'” Castro said.
The defendants face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
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