by REERA YOO
Justin Moongyu Lee, 57, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer, was charged Wednesday with running a fraudulent scheme to recruit Chinese and Korean immigration investors for an ethonal project that was never built.
Lee was indicted by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana on nine counts of wire fraud, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.
Justin Moongy Lee (Photo Credit: Korea Times)
According to federal prosecutors, Lee took roughly $47 million from 94 foreigners who each invested $500,000 plus fees in hopes of obtaining green cards under an immigrant investor program that allows foreigners to seek green cards if they invest in projects that create jobs.
Lee misused the investment money by transferring funds to foreign accounts he controlled and filed false paperwork with immigration authorities, said prosecutors. He was also accused of investing in a Philippines mining project with the funds he exploited.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil complaint against Lee’s wife—Rebecca Taewon Lee—and Thomas Edward Kent for being involved in the same alleged scheme.
“These immigration lawyers exploited a desire by foreign investors to participate in a program that would not only generate them a positive investment return, but also provide them a path to legal residence in the United States,” Michele Wien Layne, regional director of the SEC’s Los Angeles office, said in a statement. “Long after all construction had ceased, they continued to falsely tell investors that they were building the plant.”
The State Bar of California took disciplinary action against Lee, who is no longer allowed to practice law. Each of the nine wire fraud charges in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
George Newhouse, an attorney for Lee’s wife, said his client who managed Lee’s law office was not involved in any kind of fraud. Meanwhile, a message seeking comment was left for Kent’s lawyer, Jacob Shahbaz.
Lee is currently in custody in Korea, where he faces similar charges filed by Korean authorities.
Photo via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images