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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Former Fresno Resident Extradited From South Korea Pleads Guilty To Money Laundering Illegal Proceeds Generated By Investment Fraud Scheme

FRESNO, Calif. — Kwan Yong Choi, 73, pleaded guilty on Monday, February 10, 2014 to six counts of money laundering of illegal proceeds generated by his investment fraud scheme, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, in 2002, Choi, formerly of Daejeon City, South Korea, began marketing an investment scheme whereby investors could invest money into his company, Sun Min Trading Inc. Choi told investors that the company bought souvenirs and sold them to the White House. He claimed that the venture would make 30 percent profit with 10 percent going to a purported charity named “International Christian Mission Center,” and 20 percent going to investors every quarter. He specifically targeted persons of Korean descent and marketed investment opportunities to potential clients in California and elsewhere by making various false representations, including that the “International Christian Mission Center” was an extension of the CIA, that he was an ordained minister, that he had a history of investment successes, and that the investments were secure.

“This week’s guilty plea is particularly gratifying for the HSI special agents in Seoul and Fresno who worked tirelessly for seven years to see this defendant returned to the U.S. to answer for his crimes,” said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco, which oversees the agency’s investigative activities in Fresno. “This development should also provide some solace to Mr. Choi’s victims, knowing that the man who defrauded them, in some cases of their life savings, is being held accountable for his actions.”

As alleged in the indictment, instead of investing the money as promised, Choi spent the funds on his own personal and business expenses, including payments for homes, cars, and credit card bills. He lulled investors into thinking that their investments were making a return by sending false account statements, sending payments, or giving excuses as to why payments were delayed. As admitted by Choi at the time of his plea, investors lost approximately $2 million as a result of the scheme.

This case is the product of extensive investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Assistant United States Attorney Mark Cullers and Assistant United States Attorney Heather Mardel Jones are prosecuting the case.

Choi is scheduled to be sentenced on April 21, 2014 by United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. Choi faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater, restitution to the victims, and forfeiture of assets. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

Press Release Number: 
Docket #: 1:10-cr-206-AWI
Updated April 8, 2015