Korean National Sentenced For Investment Fraud
FRESNO, Calif. — Kwan Yong Choi, 72, of Fresno, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii to three years in prison for money laundering, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. Choi was also ordered to pay $2.1 million in restitution to 13 victims of his investment fraud scheme here in the United States.
On June 10, 2006, Choi was arrested in Fresno based on an extradition order from the Republic of Korea for a fraud scheme he had perpetrated there. Choi waived extradition and was returned to Korea in June 26, 2006, where he served four years in prison for fraud, marriage fraud and visa fraud. On May 27, 2010, a federal grand jury in Fresno returned a six-count indictment against Choi charging him with money laundering related to a fraud scheme that targeted elderly Korean nationals living in the United States. Federal agents escorted Choi back to Fresno after he finished serving his sentence in South Korea.
“The reality that this fraudster faces a lengthy term in federal prison should provide a measure of consolation for the defendant’s victims, some of whom lost their life saving as a result of his scams,” said Nick Annan, acting special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations San Francisco. “Today’s sentencing is particularly gratifying, given that it’s the culmination of seven years of intensive investigation carried out on two continents.”
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.
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 a result of the scheme, investors lost more than $2 million.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Fresno-based HSI special agents received substantial assistance from HSI’s attaché office in Seoul as well as from the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Justice. Assistant United States Attorneys Mark E. Cullers and Heather M. Jones prosecuted the case.