Several employees of a New York-based child modeling agency are accused of defrauding hundreds of parents by overcharging for photo shoots, lying about contracts and promising modeling jobs and acting roles that didn't exist.
Authorities said victims were propositioned at Long Island shopping malls by people acting as talent scouts. Teenagers and parents with children were approached and told that the youngsters had a certain "look" that could succeed in modeling and acting.
According to prosecutors, victims were told they would face no costs for the agency's services, and were led to believe that only a few lucky children were given such an opportunity.
But in reality, prosecutors said the agency was "not selective at all in choosing its clients, but signed up virtually anyone who would pay."
"Hundreds of families were led to believe that their child was the next big thing, only to learn that they were just the next in line to be scammed," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.
Once families were signed with the agency, the workers would pressure them to sign contracts costing as much as $3,000, indicating the children would miss high-paying jobs unless they did so.
On some occasion, clients were told their children had been chosen for multi-year jobs with major retailers like Macy's, Target and The Children's Place, but that the parents needed to pay for additional contracts or the jobs would go to someone else.
Those contracts never existed, prosecutors say.
One parent, Delora Castro, said she and her 18-year-old daughter were approached in the Queens Center Mall and brought to a bright office packed with hopeful applicants. She said the paperwork looked legitimate, but a $750 fee for a photo shoot ballooned into a $6,000 loss.
Castro said it wasn't easy to pick up on the scam.
"The studio was fabulous," she said. "It doesn't look like a fraud."
Castro's story wasn't unique. Other parents were charged for photo shoots and not contacted for months afterward.
The suspects took more than $250,000 of their clients' money, prosecutors said.
Three employees were being arraigned Wednesday, and an arrest warrant was issued for the CEO of the agency, which operated as both Model Talent Development Center and New Faces Development Center.
The New York attorney general's office said it had already begun civil proceedings against the company in 2006. At that time, the company agreed to stop its deceptive business practices, the attorney general said.
A new investigation began last year after receiving more complaints.
The name of an attorney for the agency was not immediately available.