by RUTH KIM
Following a seven-year investigation, Kwan Yong Choi, 72, of Fresno, Calif., was sentenced this week to three years in prison for money laundering and charged $2.1 million in restitution to be paid to the victims of his fraud, many of whom were elderly Koreans, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Authorities said 13 individuals fell victim to Choi’s fraudulent schemes, investing more than $2 million in his company, Sun Min Trading Inc. According to court documents, the Korean national, formerly of Daejeon City, South Korea, fabricated an investment scheme in 2002 that convinced his investors his company bought souvenirs and sold them to the White House. Out of an expected 30 percent profit from sales, 20 percent was to be given to investors quarterly and 10 percent to be given to a charity called the “International Christian Mission Center.”
But, instead, Choi bilked the investors of more than $2 million and spent the funds on his own personal and business-related expenses, including payments for homes, cars and credit card bills.
Choi specifically targeted elderly Korean nationals living in the U.S. in his scheme, according to The Business Journal. Among a number of false representations–including a history of successful investments and that the investments were secure–Choi also lied that he was an ordained minister and that the “International Christian Mission Center” was an extension of the CIA.
The length investigation began in 2006, when Choi was arrested in Fresno on an extradition order from the Republic of Korea. He returned to South Korea and served four years in prison on other fraud charges, including visa and marriage fraud, all perpetrated in South Korea.
“As with all financial scams, the victims in this case received promises of hefty profits, but they were the ones who ended up paying the price, including some who lost their life savings,” said Clark Settles, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Francisco, in a press statement last year. “We owe it to them to seek justice in this case. HSI special agents in Fresno and Seoul worked tirelessly to make it happen and, after seven years of investigative efforts, it’s gratifying to know that day has come. We also owe a tremendous debt to the authorities in South Korea, whose cooperation was vital to assuring this defendant’s return.”
In 2010, federal agents escorted Choi back to Fresno after he served his sentence in South Korea, and a federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Choi for his crimes perpetrated in the United States, according to court documents. U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii handed down the three-year sentence this week.
“The reality that this fraudster faces a lengthy term in federal prison should provide a measure of consolation for the defendant’s victims, some of whom lost their life saving as a result of his scams,” said Nick Annan, the acting special agent of HSI San Francisco, in a released statement. “Today’s sentencing is particularly gratifying, given that it’s the culmination of seven years of intensive investigation carried out on two continents.”