In real life, Noah Neiman is a gregarious, chiseled New York City celebrity fitness trainer.
On Facebook, unbeknownst to him, his images — and those of his family — were used to create a fictional Miami cancer patient named Kevin San Roman, who romanced teenage girls and fooled hundreds of supporters for three years.
Authorities unraveled the scam in July after being alerted by a Kendall school teacher whose daughter had fallen for Kevin’s fictional brother. The strange saga, perpetrated by a 28-year-old Doral restaurant owner, Cindy Choi, was chronicled in Sunday’s Miami Herald.
Neiman learned of the identity theft a year ago and complained to Facebook about someone using his image on the “San Roman” page. Then, a friend sent him the Sunday article, which included a photo of him used on Choi’s fictional Facebook page. He immediately recognized Choi as an usually dogged fan who constantly “liked” and commented on his own Facebook posts for years.
“For this to happen, it really puts a reality check on our whole media culture and our obsession with Facebook and Twitter and posting our private lives so publicly,” said Neiman. However, he didn’t know the fake Facebook page included dozens of his family photos. Choi also used images of Neiman’s younger brother to create another character, Lucas San Roman, who also wooed girls from South-Miami Dade.
“I can deal with my photo being stolen. I’m a grown boy,” Neiman said. “But I’m frustrated. I care about my brother. And I feel extremely terrible for these girls.”
Choi created the fictional San Roman family through Facebook and a detailed blog that gave intimate details about Kevin’s supposed battle with leukemia. The family purported to hail from Spain, although Kevin claimed he was living in Miami.
The blog claimed that Kevin died suddenly of cancer complications in June 2011 — after that “Lucas” continued amassing Facebook friends, and advocating cancer causes.
The blog also used described Kevin’s infant cousin, Katy, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and ultimately died. The photos of the girl were actually stolen from a blog dedicated to a Maine girl who died in 2004.
Both Kevin and Lucas also cultivated long-term relationships with teenage girls from St. Brendan and Coral Reef high schools, trading text messages, talking frequently by phone and planning to meet in person.
At least one young woman, now 22, told The Miami Herald that “Kevin” texted her as he stalked her at a home, a university library and a South Beach bar.
Another girl, now 19, later fell in love with Lucas. Her suspicious mother, Maria Masters, ultimately reported the sham to Miami-Dade prosecutors.
“We’re relieved that this family finally knows the truth because they were victims as much as we were,” Masters said. “For years, we almost felt like we knew this family — but in fact, these intimate family photos were being used as props.”
Investigators determined that no crime had been committed. Choi never physically abused anyone, stole money or donations and removed the fake Facebook pages and blog removed before investigators could preserve them.
Choi, whose family runs a chain of South Florida Chinese restaurants, did not return calls and texts seeking comment Tuesday. Her brother refused to allow her to talk to a reporter.
Neiman, in his mid-20s, is a Pittsburg native who trains enthusiasts at a celebrity “boot camp” in Manhattan. He recently appeared on ABC’s Nightline to talk about fitness, and has also done modeling work.
Neiman’s image has been stolen before — somebody on a dating website once used it without his permission.
About a year ago, a friend from Miami alerted Neiman to the “Kevin San Roman” page although he was never able to see the full page that included photos of his family on vacation and at gatherings.
He alerted Facebook. Through a friend, Neiman also sent a message to “Kevin” asking him to stop using his image.
A spokesperson for Facebook could not immediately answer whether the company acted on the complaint. Kevin’s page ultimately disappeared, a few months after his alleged death
Neiman, on Tuesday, said he hopes to raise awareness about identity theft.
“Just the ease of doing this is unbelievable, that somebody can quickly create something so fraudulent and have it go on so long unchecked,” Neiman said.