News and Press Releases

Tacoma Church Leader’s Deportation Is First of its Kind by South Korea

November 1, 2006

A Tacoma pastor is scheduled to appear in federal court in Tacoma tomorrow four months after fleeing to his native country of South Korea to avoid sentencing on charges of Conspiracy, Visa Fraud and Witness Tampering following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

DONG WAN PARK, 53, was taken into custody by ICE agents and officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday following South Korea’s decision to deport the Korean-American fugitive back to the United States.

Park was found guilty by a judge in June of filing fraudulent visa applications for foreign nationals he claimed were coming to the United States to serve as religious workers at the Hope Korean Church where he served as pastor. Less than three weeks after the verdict, Park, who was out on bond, fled to Mexico City. There, after lying to officials at the Korean embassy about his U.S. citizenship, he obtained immigration documents to reenter South Korea. Prior to leaving the United States, Park persuaded his church elders to sign off on the paperwork authorizing the sale of the church, netting himself nearly $350,000 in profit. ICE agents determined Park subsequently wired $290,000 of those funds to a bank in Korea.

“The level of support we’ve received from the South Korean authorities on this case has been significant,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Seattle. “Without South Korea’s cooperation, this defendant might never have been returned to the United States to face justice.”

Winchell emphasizes that ICE’s investigation into Park’s sale of the church and his subsequent transfer of funds to South Korea is ongoing. In the meantime, the former pastor is scheduled to be sentenced December 15, 2006 at 10:00 a.m. by U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton. Park faces up to ten years in prison on the visa fraud and obstruction of justice charges.

According to court documents in the case, Park advertised in a Korean language newspaper that immigration visas were available through his church. In exchange for as much as $30,000, Park provided the visa paperwork, including phony transcripts from a Korean seminary and a certificate of ordination from a Korean bishop. Park signed the petitions representing that the applicants would be associate pastors at the Hope Korean Church. In fact, none of the applicants was ever employed at the church, nor had they had any religious training.

After the scheme started to unravel, Park attempted to get the applicants to change their stories and mislead investigators. In one instance, Park was recorded telling an applicant to insist to ICE agents that the documents filed in the visa petitions were legitimate and to hide any evidence of the payments to Park. During the trial, Park claimed the funds he received from the visa applicants were loans or donations to the church. In fact, Park used the money himself, often withdrawing it at tribal casinos in Pierce County.

Assistant United States Attorneys Katheryn Kim Frierson and David Reese Jennings are prosecuting the case.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Information Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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