Two models and a former booking agent are suing fashion industry veteran and one-time America's Next Top Model judge Nolé Marin, saying he bilked them out of more than $50,000 while they worked for his modeling agency and used the company as his "personal piggy bank." The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan Supreme Court, according to a copy of the court papers. The suit names Marin, a.k.a. Manuel Fernandez, as well as AIM Model Management.
"It’s a shame that you have these young individuals who pursue this modeling career as a dream, and individuals like Mr. Marin turn it into a nightmare," lawyer for the plaintiffs Paul Liggieri said.
AIM's website describes it as a "boutique agency" run by "a refined team of well-seasoned, highly qualified agents." The suit paints a different picture, saying Marin operated the firm in part as "a ring to steal money and defraud his models and booking agents."
Allegedly owed the most is Devon White, who according to Liggieri signed an exclusive contract with AIM in late 2014, when he was 19, and went on to become an exclusive model for Yves Saint Laurent shortly thereafter. The suit says White worked 15 events for the high-end fashion line over the last year, including ad campaigns and fashion shows, "often going without sleep in order to perform his end of the contract," but Marin allegedly collected all the payments through the agency, only passing on occasional cash payments of "a few hundred dollars."
White says that he turned down other work on the promise that he'd get his money and Marin would alter the payment setup, but that neither happened and he's now owed more than $38,000.
The suit claims Marin directed White and his coworkers' money from the company to himself "to sustain a lifestyle above and beyond his means, including through funding other modeling projects, paying off unrelated debt, [and] funding his personal vanity with dinners and trips."
White is pictured with Marin in the right of the photo below:
Now-former booking agent Darrin Judkins charges that Marin's paychecks to him began bouncing in January of last year, and bounced with increasing frequency starting in the summer. When he asked for his pay, Liggieri wrote that Judkins "was expected to meet Marin at inconvenient times and at inconvenient locations throughout New York City." When he tried to arrange meetings, "Marin was either nowhere to be found or offer fantastical excuses," such as being treated for gout, according to the court filing.
A second model, Lana Khanashevich, speaks Russian as a first language and "was not fluent in English" when she started taking work from Marin in early 2015. The suit says he "took advantage of" her and White's greenness, and that Khanashevich has racked up more than $3,000 in unpaid wages since then.
Citing an ongoing class action lawsuit by nine former models alleging widespread exploitation among modeling agencies, Liggieri said that the problems his clients allegedly faced are common, and that more disgruntled employees may yet come forward from Marin's firm.
"Agencies have to pay these individuals in a certain amount of time," he said. "Instead, we have submitted, the agency and Mr. Marin have kept the booking agent and the models hanging with little drips and drabs of payment, so much to keep them lured into the agency, but not enough for them to survive financially."
The suit asks for $1.5 million in damages, but Liggieri said the amount is really up to a jury.
Both White and Khanashevich remain under contract to AIM, Liggieri said. White is featured alongside 55 other male models on the company's site. Khanashevich does not appear among the 6 women.
In a cease-and-desist letter sent before this article was published, AIM called the allegations "a complete fabrication" and wrote "these individuals are aware of the falsities of their statements." The letter continued:
Any further harassment, threats, slander, or interference by you and/or the weblog Gothamist with Mr. Marin’s and AIM’s prospective business relations and economic interests will not be tolerated.
After listing Marin's accomplishments, the letter concludes that he and his agency "will be fully vindicated in this insubstantial matter."
Marin has held many roles in the fashion industry, working as a stylist, as a fashion director at ELLE magazine, and appearing as a judge on four seasons of Tyra Banks's fashion reality show. He also discovered male supermodel Sean O'Pry through prom photos on the then-teen's Myspace page. He was reportedly sued in 2010 for allegedly twice promising an aspiring model fame and lucrative deals, then allegedly blacklisting him when he objected to being sexually assaulted. The disposition of that lawsuit is not clear, as no records of it appear in the state Supreme Court system's online docket.
In a 2013 interview, Marin said:
Fashion has transported me into a lifestyle that I only dreamed about. And I dream very big. Till this day, I dream very big. I'm like a cat: I have, you know, nine lives, but I'm gonna go on 18 lives for that.