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Press Release

Former HSI Special Agent Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribes from Korean Businessman Being Investigated for Human Trafficking

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

LOS ANGELES – A former special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) pleaded guilty this afternoon to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from a man who had been accused of trafficking a woman into the United States to be a sex slave.

Joohoon David Lee, 43, who currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery before United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald.

“Corrupt officials who abuse their positions of power to line their pockets compromise our entire system of government,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “In this case, a federal law enforcement officer thwarted justice in exchange for just a few thousand dollars and hindered the ability of a possible trafficking victim to seek justice.”

Lee accepted money from a Korean man identified in court documents at “H.S.” According to a plea agreement filed in this case, Lee, who was assigned to HSI’s Human Trafficking unit in Los Angeles, interviewed a woman in March 2012 who claimed that she was entering the United States to be a slave for a Korean businessman named H.S.

About a year later, according to the plea agreement, Lee met with an attorney representing H.S. and told the lawyer that Lee could fly to Korea, interview H.S. and submit a favorable report – if H.S. would finance the trip. H.S. agreed, and Lee accepted $3,000 in cash.

Approximately 10 days after receiving the money, Lee travelled to Seoul, where H.S. paid for Lee’s hotel and entertainment expenses. While in Korea, Lee asked for “a large sum of money, “according to the plea agreement, in which Lee admits accepting between $6,000 and $7,000.”

Upon returning to the United States, Lee prepared a report related to the investigation of H.S. that read: “Subject was suspected of human trafficking. No evidence found and victim statement contradicts. Case closed. No further action required.”

“There will be zero tolerance for public officials who abuse their authority and violate the public’s trust,” said Joe Jeronimo, special agent in charge for ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility. “Guarding against illegal or unethical behavior by those in positions of public trust is not an option – it is an obligation we have to the people we serve. ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducted the investigation in this case and we’ll continue to hold our employees to the highest standards of professional conduct.”

Lee is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Fitzgerald on May 23, at which time he faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

Updated December 22, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-156