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Spa manager believes she is a victim of the Botox Bandit

TAMPA — The woman came in looking to peel off her past.

Blond hair, blue eyes, gym shorts. Like the girl next door, thought the manager of Skin NV, a med spa that opened in May.

The client said her 10-year high school reunion was around the corner and she wanted to be the envy of everyone else.

The spa obliged.

Chemical peel: $50. Laser treatment: $348. A protein-rich recovery cream: $155. Clarisonic Skin Care Brush: $195. Prescription-grade Vitamin A: $74.

Then came the bill: $851.68, not uncommon in South Tampa, where looks matter and women have the means, said Anne Nelson, Skin NV's manager.

The client wrote a check and signed it Jaimie Merk.

Five days later, on June 15, the check bounced. It bounced again on repeat tries. Nelson has the bank paperwork to prove it.

That's when she learned the story of the Botox Bandit.

"What kind of girl does this?" she asks now. "I just don't understand."

• • •

On Jaimie Merk's Facebook page, her profile photo flashes an even, bright white smile.

She's single, 32, and says she works as a weight-loss clinic director.

She majored in psychology at the University of North Florida.

Yoga is her new obsession, she notes on Facebook. She loves lying in the sun, hearing a baby laugh and getting facials.

She has nearly 400 friends. Some write her daily.

She doesn't like to be called "ma'am."

Elsewhere, a different picture of Merk appears.

Once, in a courtroom, a doctor testified that her self-esteem was so low that she resorts to stealing Botox to feel better, according to an attorney who was part of the proceedings.

In April, Tampa police reported they took Merk into protective custody for mental evaluation after she sent her ex-boyfriend a text message indicating she was suicidal. Police noted she was taking medication for depression.

People victimized by Merk do not have much sympathy.

Their names show up in lawsuits and court judgments.

• • •

In August 2007, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office asked the public for help catching the "Botox Bandit."

A woman had shown up at Rejuva Plastic Surgery Center and Medi-Spa, received a facial and cosmetic procedures, and then disappeared leaving an $850 bill. She used an alias.

The Sheriff's Office had a picture of the suspect — made possible because the plastic surgeon had taken a "before" photo.

A tip led deputies to Jaimie Merk, Hillsborough County Sheriff's officials said at the time.

It was just one of several cases that landed her on probation until 2012 for several convictions of grand theft and worthless checks in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Her civil court and probation files contain claims from pet supply stores, renters and even an adoption agency saying she owes them money.

Those who have dealt with Merk wonder whether there are other victims.

• • •

Pregnant in 2004, Merk agreed to turn over her unborn child to adoptive parents through Heart of Adoptions of Tampa, according to a lawsuit the agency filed.

She told the adoption agency that she had no idea who the father was, the lawsuit stated. She said she met him at a bar.

Medical records stated that Joshua Sean Squires was the father. But Merk signed a notarized statement disputing that, the lawsuit said.

The adoptive parents and the agency paid her more than $5,000 for living expenses, attorney fees and other costs.

A few weeks later, the agency heard from Squires.

In an interview with the Times, he said he was in a weeks­long relationship with Merk when she became pregnant.

"She knew she was pregnant with my child," he said. "There was no one-night stand with anyone, and I was in the delivery room on Dec. 23, 2004."

Squires, 30, now has custody of the 4½-year-old girl.

In 2006, a judge ordered Merk to pay the agency $6,113, court records show.

The agency's executive director, Brigette Barno, said Monday that Merk has paid nothing.

• • •

In January 2008, prospective renters responded to an ad on Craigslist advertising a Seminole Heights house that belongs to Merk's mother, according to Hillsborough property records.

Two of them, Angela Hart and Eric Younghans, wound up suing Merk in small claims court. Hart also sued Merk's mother.

They say Jaimie Merk showed them a house and collected $1,900 from each of them.

Hart, suspicious after Merk delayed the move-in date, looked her up on Google and learned of her Botox Bandit past. She asked for her money back. In a court document, she said Merk agreed.

Younghans, meanwhile, learned from Merk that the house wouldn't be available. Merk told him she would refund his money, he said.

Neither got a refund. Merk made excuses, they said. Sometimes she didn't return calls.

In 2008, a judge ordered her to pay each $2,075. In Hart's case, Merk's mother was also held responsible, according to the final judgment.

So far, Hart, 30, has received $150, she said.

"She's never going to learn her lesson," Hart said of Merk. "People say people change. They don't."

Younghans, 56, has received $150, he said.

"She seemed very believable," he said. "She's very good at it."

• • •

Merk did not respond to a voice mail message from the Times for this story. A note was left at her door seeking comment. An attorney who represented her did not call back.

"I'm not giving any comments," said her mother, Debra Merk, who owns a $1.1 million waterfront house in Clearwater Beach. "As far as I know, what you're saying is not true."

• • •

In hindsight, the Skin NV manager said she felt a little wary about Merk's June 10 check when she noticed the address in a neighborhood of rentals.

After the check bounced, she tried to call Merk. The phone numbers Merk left didn't work.

Nelson sent her business partner to Merk's stated address, a pink apartment building. The partner left a note.

No one called back.

Nelson contacted the Hillsborough County Victims Assistance program. A counselor helped her start the process of filing a bad check complaint. That process is now under way. No charges have been filed.

Nelson even tried to connect with Merk by inviting her to be a "friend" on Facebook.

Merk didn't respond.

On June 25, after a Times reporter left messages for Merk, she sent an e-mail to the spa.

"I'm very sorry I did not contact you sooner," she wrote. "I have not had a phone since you left that letter at my apartment, and I just received another letter in the mail today.

"I just want you to know that I am very sorry for this, and of course I'm going to pay for the services I received," she wrote. "I am just not sure why you have chosen to take this further without even giving me the opportunity to rectify the situation."

Merk said she would bring the money in this week.

Nelson told her the spa would be closed Friday.

By the end of the day Thursday, Merk hadn't paid.

• • •

On a Facebook quiz, Merk writes that she loves the smell of flowers and wants to meet the man of her dreams.

Two things she is proud of? Her daughter and family.

Two things she is not proud of? "Let's keep those in the closet," she wrote.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368.

Spa manager believes she is a victim of the Botox Bandit 07/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 3, 2009 10:52am]
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