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Has the Botox Bandit taken a bite out of the Big Apple?

The aesthetician who gave the pretty blond woman a deep pore cleansing facial and a sea clay mask felt miffed when the client failed to tip.

Tips are de rigueur at the Susan Ciminelli Day Spa & Salon in midtown Manhattan, which caters monthly to Martha Stewart and the like.

The client on May 19 wrote a check for $504, leaving with bamboo ginger scrub, hydrating sea water and marine lotion.

But when the check hit the bank, it bounced. The woman's phone number didn't work; nor did the credit card number that had held her reservation. The spa owner Googled the client's name, one familiar at spas around Tampa Bay: Jaimie Merk.

That's when the story of the Botox Bandit made its way to Manhattan.

• • •

Merk, 33, who has lived in Tampa and Clearwater, has been a fugitive from Florida since April after skipping out on probation earned, in part, by failing to pay for beauty treatments.

Law enforcement dubbed her the Botox Bandit, though it's unclear how much actual botulinum toxin A may have been involved.

Three years ago, she walked out on an $850 bill for laser treatment, a chemical peel and other procedures at Rejuva Plastic Surgery Center and Medi-Spa near Westchase. Last year, she passed a bad check for $851 at Skin NV, a South Tampa med spa. She paid the bill after the spa filed a legal complaint, amid inquiries from a Times reporter.

In Manhattan, spa workers remember that their new client — carrying a stylish bag, wearing a striped sweater, hair in a ponytail — seemed casual but well put together.

They didn't run her check through any sort of validation service. It had been decades since a client stiffed the Ciminelli Day Spa.

New York police are looking for the person who did it this time, and Detective Martin Speechley called Tampa's Jaimie Merk "a person of interest." A security camera captured the client's face.

Spa owner Susan Ciminelli has her own product line, has appeared on television and in fashion magazines, and has written a skin care book.

When clients come to her, she tells them that beauty begins on the inside.

"I've worked on some of the most beautiful women in the world who are ugly because they're ugly from the inside," she said. "Everybody slips up, but people who steal, they're stealing from themselves. It's really sad. Just like people who give. They're giving to themselves."

• • •

Merk left debts in Florida. In 2006, a judge ordered her to repay Heart of Adoptions of Tampa after the agency fronted her $6,113, believing that Merk intended to give up a baby. She hasn't returned any of the money, agency owner Jeanne Tate said. Merk owes a pet boutique almost $250 and another company, Utopia Inc., more than $1,100, probation records show.

Despite a judge's order, she hasn't completely repaid Angela Hart and Eric Younghans, prospective tenants who shelled out nearly $2,000 apiece in 2008 for a Tampa home she never made available.

She violated her probation last fall by overstating to her probation officer the restitution she had made. That landed her in the Pinellas County Jail for a month.

She's on probation until September 2012, but January was the last month she checked in with her probation officer, Carl Ecklund.

In February, someone slipped him a printout of Merk's Facebook page, where she claimed to have moved to New Jersey and said she was looking for a place in Manhattan.

In March, the officer visited Merk's last known address, Apartment 929 at 2731 Via Capri in Clearwater. He found Merk's mother living there. She confirmed that Merk was living somewhere in New York, he reported.

The Times found a Jaimie Merk working at Bradford Barnes Associates, a New York temporary staffing firm, and left a message on her work voice mail.

Merk didn't return the call.

The Times called again, and Merk's colleague put her on the phone.

Was she Jamie Merk from the Tampa area? This Merk said no.

But Joshua Squires, who has custody of a daughter he had with Merk, says he knows she works for Barnes staffing.

The child support payments originate from there, he said. To collect, the state of Florida was forced to garnish Merk's wages.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3368.

Has the Botox Bandit taken a bite out of the Big Apple? 06/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 12, 2010 4:48pm]

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