Tag Archives: crime

Eric Schneiderman

Scammer Posing as a NYC Social Worker Sentenced to Prison

by JAMES S. KIM

The president of the Korean Social Service Center in New York, who posed as a social worker and made false promises of low-income housing, pleaded guilty in a prison plea yesterday, according to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (pictured above).

Ock Chul Ha, 58, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, will serve 1 to 3 years in state prison. The Korean Social Service Center, a not-for-profit organization, will also be closed down. The victims have received restitution judgments in their favor, as well.

Ha was arrested in May after an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Department of Tax and Finance revealed that over the course of three years, he had fraudulently taken approximately $780,000 from 42 people, primarily elderly Korean Americans. Most came to him for advice regarding Medicare or Social security, and he falsely promised them placement in low-income housing in New York’s 421(a) program.

“At a time when more New Yorkers than ever are struggling with the cost of housing, Mr. Ha dangled the promise of an affordable home to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, ruining lives in the process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Exploiting insecurity and vulnerability – especially in one’s own community – is despicable, and hopefully this conviction can bring some measure of justice to the victims of Ha’s scheme. This conviction also ensures that Mr. Ha will never again use his social service center as a tool for fraud and deception.”

The attorney general’s felony complaint alleged that Ha “preyed on vulnerable people, who he believed would be least likely to notify law enforcement of his scam,” which included the elderly, widows, immigrants and the disabled, most of whom spoke little English. He would gain their trust using his position as a social worker, then offer the clients an opportunity to obtain housing in New York.

Ha would repeatedly call his victims after the initial proposition and warn them that they would lose their chance of getting an apartment if they did not act quickly. Oftentimes, the attorney general noted, Ha would initially demand $28,500, which led many of his victims to empty bank accounts or borrow from friends or family. Some time later, he would ask for more money for “security deposits” equaling six months of rent and provide his victims with a receipt from the Korean Social Service Center.

The investigation found that Ha did not report any income generated in New York State during the past five years. When a search warrant was issued on March 18, 2014, investigators found that Ha had called his victims to urge them not to cooperate with law enforcement and brought up the prospect of reimbursement as a reward. Despite the promises, several victims reportedly ended up cooperating with law enforcement.

Two of his victims include an electrician, who lost his entire life savings to Ha, and an artist who borrowed money from relatives.

After initially pleading not guilty at his arraignment in May, Ha pleaded yesterday to one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, and Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree. The individuals who assisted Ha are also under investigation as well.

Photo courtesy of EricSchneiderman.com

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‘Serial’ Revisits Murder of Korean American Teen

By SUEVON LEE | @suevlee
suevon@iamkoream.com

The Oxford English Dictionary may have recently released its “Word of the Year,” but the one buzzword on everybody’s lips these days seems to be “Serial.”

For those just hearing about it, Serial is a weekly podcast from the producers of This American Life whose first season has focused on a decade-and-a-half-old murder that took place in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The story centers around the death of Hae Min Lee, who was a senior at Woodlawn High School when she disappeared the afternoon of Jan. 13, 1999. Her body was found a month later in a city park; the 18-year-old had been strangled.

Implicated in the crime was Lee’s fellow classmate and ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who, following a jury trial in Baltimore, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to a life term behind bars, where he remains today in a maximum-security prison.

Journalist Sarah Koenig embarked on a yearlong investigation into the crime after a close family friend to Syed, convinced of his innocence, urged her to revisit the details of the incident, treated by authorities as a closed case.

First airing in early October—and available for streaming and download starting with Episode One—Serial seeks to answer the many questions that have confounded Koenig, the show’s narrator and host, since she began her investigation last year.

The ongoing podcast is a work-in-progress: Koenig continues to report and uncover new facts in real time, with each new hourlong episode airing every Thursday. The compelling part of the program is the conversational style of narration and its pacing. Koenig has said in interviews she doesn’t actually know the truth, whether Syed is guilty or not—in each new installment, she unearths some new detail or revelation that plants new doubts.

Avid listeners of the show—who have helped Serial average 1.26 million downloads per episode and become the fastest iTunes podcast to top 5 million downloads—are invited into Koenig’s repeat telephone conversations with Syed, speaking to her from prison, plus interviews with friends and classmates of Lee and Syed, in addition to the narrator’s personal ruminations about the complex web of allegations the case entails.

While there is no dispute the series has become a national obsession, it’s the program’s treatment and interpretation of its characters’ respective cultures that has touched off a feisty debate in recent days.

Lee’s parents are Korean immigrants while Syed is Pakistani American who was raised in a Muslim household. Described on the podcast as carefree, typical teens, Lee and Syed, we learn, were wrapped up in the usual teenage pursuits such as after-school track practice, homecoming dances, down time with friends, driving to the mall, after-school jobs—and clandestine dating to evade parental notice.

Their ethnic backgrounds are referenced early on, but never dominate the frame, so to speak.

Former Grantland writer and editor turned New York Times Magazine contributor Jay Caspian Kang, in an essay published on The Awl last week, argues that the podcast is problematic because it involves “an immigrant story” told by a white journalist whom Kang argues comes across as “a cultural tourist” in the ultimate example of “white privilege in journalism.”

While Kang writes he is willing to cut the episodic podcast “enough slack to regard it as an experiment in form,” he adds: “I am still disturbed by the thought of Koenig stomping around communities that she clearly does not understand, digging up small, generally inconsequential details about the people inside of them, and subjecting it all to that inimitable This American Life process of tirelessly, and sometimes gleefully, expressing her neuroses over what she has found.”

That piece, and like-minded criticism published elsewhere, led to this rebuttal published by the New York Observer, in which writer Lindsay Beyerstein poses the question, “So, why is there a cottage industry of think pieces dedicated to making us feel guilty about liking Serial?” Beyerstein argues that Koenig as narrator, if anything, subverts listener stereotypes and challenges their assumptions about the minority characters.

Rabia Chaudry, the woman who initially contacted Koenig about Syed’s circumstance, also added her two cents about the podcast’s treatment of race in this Q&A, saying: “The fact that the Serial team is all white means that maybe they won’t quite get some things about Korean culture or our [Muslim] culture, but so what? Then we explain it.”

Whatever your views on this thread of conversation—for most people, Serial is just a compelling, expertly produced true crime narrative–some omitted elements to the story seem hard to ignore. For instance, where is Lee’s family in the story?

Part of that question may have been addressed this week when a person professing to be Hae Min Lee’s younger brother acknowledged the series’ explosive popularity in a Reddit post.

“To you listeners, its another murder mystery, crime drama, another episode of CSI. You weren’t there to see your mom crying every night, having a heartattck when she got the new that the body was found, and going to court almost everyday for a year seeing your mom weeping, crying and fainting,” the post reads. “You don’t know what we went through.”

Nevertheless, the post’s author is honest about his reaction to the podcast. “Although I do not like the fact that SK [Sarah Koenig] picked our story to cover, she is an awesome narrator/writer/investigator,” the post reads.

In the meantime, Syed is appealing his conviction by arguing his trial attorney showed ineffective assistance of counsel. The state’s case against Syed rested mainly on the testimony of a friend who claimed he helped Syed dump Lee’s body in Baltimore’s Leakin Park.

We don’t know whether Serial, which aired its ninth episode Thursday, and plans at least several more episodes before concluding the season, will ever broach the family angle—but we know if it does not, it’s not for apparent lack of effort.

“It’s an upsetting story. A girl was murdered and it’s horrible,” host Koenig told Time in an interview in late October. “Getting people to talk to me about that and be honest with me about that is hard. For a lot of these people, even those not directly involved, this was the defining horror of their lives. It’s hard for them.”

The Baltimore Sun, which initially covered Lee’s murder and Syed’s conviction 15 years ago, circled back to the tragic saga in an Oct. 10 article, recalling that at Syed’s sentencing in 2000, Lee’s mother, Youn Wha Kim, told the court via an interpreter that she had moved to the United States from Korea to provide her children “a decent education and a decent future.”

“‘I would like to forgive Adnan Syed, but as of now, I just don’t know how I could,’” the Sun reported her saying. “‘When I die, my daughter will die with me. As long as I live, my daughter is buried in my heart.’”

To catch up with the beginning of Serial, start here.

Photo courtesy of WBALTV

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K-pop Male Ex-Trainees Reveal Talent Agency’s History of Sexual Abuse

by REERA YOO

On Sept. 18, E News broadcasted a shocking report about an entertainment company, identified only as XX Entertainment, sexually abusing their trainees and K-pop artists.

Former male trainees of the management company in question confessed on camera that they were forced to perform sexual acts and were raped by the company’s CEO.

“When it was a company staff member’s birthday, they rented a room in a pub and had male trainees perform strip shows while female trainees served drinks as they suffered sexual harassment,” said ex-trainee “A.”

After the CEO of XX Entertainment was sentenced with rape and sexual harassment, E News said they were shocked to discover that “two out of five members of an idol group were raped since their early teens.”

When asked why he could not refuse sexual requests, ex-trainee “A” said, “We have to do it no matter what because otherwise the agency will fire us.” He added that even though he left the company after 2 years of sexual abuse, there are still many young trainees who are willing to endure the abuse.

“If we report to the police, then our names will be in the mass media, and we don’t want that,” he concluded.

Another former trainee, identified as “C,” added that underaged trainees are not exempt from sexual harassment. “There are so many young trainees, but people will freely use sexual terms and touch them inappropriately,” he said. “Our cellphones were checked once a day, and our weights and heights were checked once a week. They would also check the girls’ genitals.”

“C” also revealed that aside from trainees, the company also abused their artists. “A close unnie who already debuted in an unpopular girl group got called in by someone [from the company] one day and returned with face injuries. She wanted to commit suicide.”

Although the company and idols’ names remain anonymous, the disturbing news has been stirring up chaos in the K-pop industry. Almost immediately after the E News report released, idol group ZE:A’s leader, Lee Hoo, posted a series of shocking tweets regarding his grievances over his agency, CEO, contract, and the Korean music industry as a whole.

Photo via E News

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SKorean Professor Conducts Illegal Biopsy, Allegedly Ends An Athlete’s Career

by STEVE HAN

Some disturbing news recently came out of Korea National Sports University as a professor was caught conducting illegal biopsies in the last decade on more than 200 people, over half of whom were or still are students at the academic institution, according to SBS.

The professor, only identified by his last name Kim, reportedly extracted muscle cells or tissues from students, after telling them that he would grant them higher grades if they participated in his experiment. One of the student-athletes who agreed to receive surgery sustained a serious hamstring injury, which later led to the end of his athletic aspirations, according to the SBS report.

Professor Kim, however, dismissed the notion of the procedures being problematic, saying that it is “only one of 200 people suffered a side effect.” He added that the biopsies were conducted to help student-athletes enhance their athletic performance.

“I’m not quite sure if my surgeries were illegal,” Kim reportedly told SBS. “That’s all I can say.”

Experts also warned that illegal biopsies could lead to infection and additional injuries that may not have been identified yet.

Lifelike Sex Dolls

South Korean Cops Mistake Sex Doll For Murder Victim

by REERA YOO

Police rushed to a temple garden in Gyeonnggi Province after receiving a call about a bound female corpse, but upon closer examination, they discovered that the “corpse” was actually an inflatable doll.

According to BBC, a witness was picnicking in the park with his family when he saw what appeared to be a dead female body sprawled near the waterway. The body was tied up with denim fabric and blue tape and seemed to have been a victim of a brutal murder.

Around 50 officers arrived at the potential murder scene and were surprised and equally relieved to find the alleged corpse to be a life-size inflatable sex doll.

“The skin texture [was so] similar to that of an actual person that when the policeman touched it, he mistook it for a human body,” a police source told The Dong-A Ilbo.

Officials said the doll is an import from Japan that is sold in adult stores. Sex dolls are supposedly also found in brothels, since it ambiguous whether or not the “doll experience” violates South Korea’s anti-prostitution laws.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images and BBC. 

fashion raid

Korean Business Charged With Money Laundering in L.A. Fashion District Raid

by JAMES S. KIM

Kidnapping, ransom and money laundering. It sounds like something out of a movie or television show, but in reality, it was one of the eye-opening stories coming out of Los Angeles’s Fashion District last Wednesday as nearly 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security agents and local law enforcement raided several businesses, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Aptly-titled “Operation Fashion Police,” the raid targeted businesses that were allegedly aiding cartels in getting money from drug sales into Mexico.

Q.T. Fashion owner Andrew Jong Hack Park, 56, of La Canada-Flintridge, business manager Sang Jun Park, 36, of La Crescenta were among those arrested on Wednesday on charges related to money laundering and smuggling goods.

While it was a perfectly functioning wholesaler of mostly maternity clothing, Q.T. Fashion also had dealings with the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. The cartel was holding a drug distributor hostage, and his family approached Q.T. Fashion to be the broker and send $140,000 in ransom money. Through a series of financial moves, the money made its way into Mexico, and the indictment said that the victim was released the day Q.T. Fashion received the money.

It’s one of the more extreme examples of drug cartels utilizing businesses throughout L.A. to convert their earnings into pesos through “trade-based money laundering.”

“We have targeted money laundering activities in the Fashion District based on a wealth of information that numerous businesses there are engaged in Black Market Peso Exchange schemes,” said Robert E. Dugdale, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who oversees the Criminal Division in the Central District of California. “Los Angeles has become the epicenter of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses.”

Those earnings were on full display last Wednesday: agents seized over $100 million (about two-thirds in bulk cash) from 75 different raids, most of them concentrated in the fashion district, and arrested nine people. Three L.A.-area homes were also seized on Friday, as they are suspected of being purchased with illicit money.

Raidmoney
Photo via U.S. Attorney’s Office

Cartels have been unable to send shipments of cash back home since Mexico set limits on U.S. currency deposits at banks in 2010. Since then, cartels have increasingly arranged for drug dealers in L.A. to pay local businesses for merchandise that would be sent to a business in Mexico. That business would then sell the merchandise and pay a peso broker, who, after taking a cut, delivers the rest to the cartel.

Only four businesses were listed in the indictment: Q.T. Fashion, Yili Underwear, Gayima Underwear and Pacific Eurotex Corp. Authorities warned, however, that this was just the beginning.

“This is only the first round of cases,” said Thom Mrozek, the Public Affairs Officer for the Los Angeles District Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “W believe there will be more, many more.”

The owners of Gayima Underwear and Yili Underwear, Xilin Chen, 55, and his son Chuang Feng Chen, 24, were arrested and charged with nine felony counts related to money laundering and structuring, as well as lying on naturalization forms. Xilin’s daughter, Alixia Chen, remains at large in China.

Four owners of Pacific Eurotex Corp. were arrested and charged with 10 felony counts. They were accused of hiding $2.6 million in drug money over two years by dividing it into 363 separate deposits, the L.A. Times reports.

A Maria Ferre employee was arrested on suspicion of distributing money and changing clothing tags to read “Made in America” to avoid Mexican tariffs. Three other Maria Ferre defendants are at large in Mexico.

Taiwanese law enforcement also froze a bank account containing nearly $16 million that is allegedly tied to a similar money laundering scheme by Mexican cartels.

As of Wednesday, seven of those arrested had pled not guilty. Two others are set to be arraigned at a later time.

Image via Los Angeles Times

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OC Resident Kills Army Veteran And Disposes Her Body In A Canyon

by STEVE HAN

A jury found Kwang Chol Joy guilty of one felony count of second degree murder after the 55-year-old Santa Ana man was convicted of murdering his Army veteran roommate and disposing her body in a canyon, according to the Orange County District Attorney office.

Joy had been living at his home in Orange with his roommate Maribel Ramos, a 36-year-old Army veteran who served two combat tours in Iraq. Ramos was also a student at California State University, Fullerton.

The two were reportedly arguing over Joy’s unpaid rent. Joy murdered Ramos sometime between May 2 and May 3 of last year and disposed her body in Santiago Canyon, the press release said. Joy is facing a maximum of 15 years to life in state prison.

Ramos was last seen alive on surveillance camera as she was dropping off a rent check at the manager’s office. The Orange Police Department began investigating on May 3 when her friends reported her missing.

On May 16, police found the victim’s body in a shallow grave after Joy was seen at the Orange Public Library & History Center where a computer he used showed that he conducted several web searches about the human body decay process and used a satellite map website to zoom in on a location of Santiago Canyon.

Joy was arrested at the police station on May 17.

Queens Murder-Suicide Body Bag

Family Found Dead in Queens Apartment Fire, Murder-Suicide Suspected

by REERA YOO

A Queens man stabbed his wife and teen son to death before setting their apartment ablaze and slashing his own throat in a grisly murder-suicide, said the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Jong-hoon Lee, 50, was a truck driver who was reportedly going through financial woes and struggling to find work. According to The New York Times, detectives found a blood-stained and singed suicide note written in Korean inside Lee’s pocket.

“If I die by myself, it will cause too many problems for my child and my wife,” the NYPD translation of the note read. Therefore, it said, “we all have to leave.”

Sung Lee and Brian Lee
Sung-hae Lee with her son Brian Lee. (Photo via The Korea Times)

The fire broke out at around 4:50 a.m. on Sept. 9 on the sixth-floor at a Flushing apartment on Roosevelt Ave, said police sources. Firefighters found Lee’s body stacked on top of the bodies of his wife, Sung-hae Lee, 54, and his son Brian Lee, 16, inside the living room. All three had stab wounds, and a bloody knife was found at the scene.

According to family friends, Lee’s wife worked at a nail salon and his son Brian was a junior at Brooklyn Technical High School. The two were active members of their church.

Longtime neighbor Lo Lee, who has no family relations with the deceased, said he heard a disturbance coming from the apartment early Tuesday morning.

“I heard some banging. It sounded like glass breaking,” Lo Lee told New York Daily News through a translator. He added that the crime scene, which he saw later in the morning, was gruesome and had “blood everywhere.”

The police said they found no history of domestic incident reports or police responses at the residence. However, they did discover records of a 2005 bankruptcy with about $100,000 in debt, as reported by NY Daily News.

Notably, another murder-suicide occurred in the same neighborhood only the evening before, in which a Chinese man fatally shot his girlfriend and then killed himself. Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said the timing of the two incidents was especially unfortunate since they happened during the Chuseok and Moon Festivals, holidays known for their happy family gatherings.

Three firefighters sustained minor injuries while extinguishing the fire and were hospitalized. The police said the investigation was still ongoing.

Featured photo via Bruce Cotler of NY Daily News.