News and Press Releases


March 25, 2005

YOUNG PIL "RICKY" CHOI, 30, of Los Angeles, California was sentenced to three years in prison and three years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Smuggle and Transport over 100 Aliens in the United States, Bringing Illegal Aliens to the United States for Financial Gain, and three counts of Harboring Illegal Aliens. CHOI pleaded guilty to being the leader of a prolific smuggling ring in July 2004. At sentencing today in Tacoma, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton told CHOI, "[Your] conduct as a human smuggler was despicable."

According to court records, CHOI's organization smuggled as many as 100 illegal aliens a month across the Canadian-U.S. border. Most were then transported south to Los Angeles to work as prostitutes in bars, restaurants or massage parlors. CHOI presented bar owners with photographs of Korean women who could work in the bars. CHOI made travel arrangements for the women with a human smuggling broker in Korea. CHOI paid for the women's travel, arranged for accommodations for the women in Canada, supervised the organization member in Washington State who coordinated the women's travel from Canada into Washington State. He then paid the drivers for driving the women from Washington to Los Angeles. CHOI charged the Korean nationals as much as $20,000 to be smuggled into the United States.

The Korean nationals crossed the border at rural areas near Sumas, Washington, or Oroville, Washington. The crossing occurred over mountainous or rural areas on foot with few belongings. These smuggled individuals would be picked up by a member of the conspiracy on the other side of the border in the United States, and transported through Washington State to various destination points, most notably, Southern California.
CHOI was arrested in November 2003 by federal agents. Residing in his Southern California home at that time were three Korean nationals who had also been smuggled by CHOI's organization.

"Human trafficking has tragic consequences," stated United States Attorney John McKay. "These women and children and their families pay huge sums thinking they are headed for a better life, but find as illegal immigrants they can be trapped in a form of modern day slavery." In sentencing CHOI, Judge Leighton recognized that he had fully accepted responsibility and was extremely remorseful of his criminal conduct. But Judge Leighton noted that CHOI, who came to the U.S. from South Korea at age 12, had had a number of life advantages. "Mr. Choi clearly had potential; good grades...a good family. But on the scale of heinous conduct, while he's not at the top, you can see the top from there." After serving his prison sentence, CHOI will be deported from the United States and barred from returning.

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security. Assistant United States Attorneys Ye-Ting Woo and Tessa Gorman prosecuted the case. For further information, please contact Emily Langley, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington at (206) 553-4110.

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