Gang Leader Sentenced to more than a decade in Prison for Violent Extortion of Business Owners
ATLANTA – Eugene Chung has been sentenced to ten years, six months in prison on federal extortion charges. Chung was the leader of a Gwinnett County, Georgia, gang that specialized in the violent collection of debts from business owners in the Korean-American community. Chung and his gang also shook down business owners for “protection payments” and engaged in other criminal conduct including drug trafficking, firearms offenses, and gambling. Chung earlier pled guilty to two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion. Four other members of Chung’s gang were also convicted of federal extortion offenses.
“Chung carefully cultivated his reputation for violence, and profited from that reputation by victimizing our Korean-American community,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn. “He bragged that he and his associates were ‘professionals’ at extortion and that harming their victims was one more way to get people to pay. The community is safer now that he and his fellow gang members are off the streets.”
“Mr. Chung counted on the silence of his many victims within the Korean community as he beat and extorted them. This case, and sentencing of Mr. Chung to federal prison, came about from brave and informed community members who understood their rights and were willing to stand up for those rights by working with our federal agents and federal prosecutors in order to put a stop to Mr. Chung and his gang. The FBI thanks those individuals for their efforts as they now enjoy a safer community due primarily to their own actions and willingness to get involved,” said David J. LeValley, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.
According to U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges, and other information presented in court: In about July 2009, Chung and his crew visited a Korean restaurant in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and demanded a monthly share of the restaurant’s profits from the bar’s owner (referred to as “Victim # 1” in the indictments) in exchange for “protection.” Chung promised that, unless Victim #1 made the demanded payments, Chung and his crew would assault Victim #1, harass his customers and employees, and otherwise damage the restaurant. To reinforce their threats, Chung told Victim #1 that his crew routinely carried firearms and terrorized other Korean businesses in the community.
Over the next four months, Chung and his criminal associates strong-armed Victim #1 into making monthly protection payments, ranging from $400 to $800. On December 16, 2009, after Victim #1 missed making a monthly payment, Chung, Vorasith, and Kim showed up at the restaurant, assaulted Victim #1 in one of the restaurant’s karaoke rooms, and demanded payment. Chung threatened to kill Victim #1 if he did not pay. Chung pulled out a semiautomatic pistol, pointed it at Victim #1, and threatened to pull the trigger. Vorasith punched Victim #1 in the face, breaking his nose and knocking him unconscious.
Shortly after the December 16 assault, the FBI opened an investigation, and Victim #1 resumed making protection payments under FBI surveillance, including two payments that were made to Kim for Chung.
On March 10, 2010, Victim #1 introduced an FBI undercover agent to Chung, Vorasith, and Lee. The undercover agent (referred to as “the patron” in the indictments) posed as a wealthy businessman who was said to be Victim #1’s uncle and who purported to be interested in buying large quantities of marijuana. During the recorded meeting, Chung explained to the patron that he ran a marijuana distribution business and offered a menu of other illegal services as well, including gambling, extortion, and debt collection services.
Chung offered to help the patron if he ever needed money collected and stated, “If you need us to beat up anybody, we’re professionals at that.” Chung added that he and his associates were “best at making people crippled,” and said they could also make people “permanently limp, blind, or deaf.” Upon hearing that the patron supposedly was owed $200,000 by a businessman in Houston, Texas, who was behind in payments (and who was actually an undercover FBI Special Agent as well), Chung offered to collect the debt.
In July 2010, Chung and Lee had a series of recorded in-person meetings and telephone calls with the patron in which they planned to forcibly collect the debt from the Texas businessman. Chung offered to get 20 to 30 guys ready for the job, and he said that the businessman was “sure to pay” because his crew was “really good at collecting money” and the businessman would be “scared.” Chung accepted a $2,000 advance payment.
When the patron asked Chung not to break the businessman’s legs, Chung quipped that that sometimes “happens,” but usually was not necessary because his guys were good at making victims think they were going to be killed. Chung further observed that “people in Atlanta know if you don’t pay you get killed,” and that if the businessman did not pay, they would show up at his office in Texas.
On July 21, 2010, Chung, Vorasith, Choi, and Lee rode together with the patron to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport where they believed the Texas businessman was catching a connecting flight. Chung, Vorasith, Choi, and Lee approached the businessman, who was sitting at a restaurant table in the airport’s atrium. While being recorded, Chung and his crew surrounded the table. Chung ordered the businessman to repay the patron and threatened to visit the businessman and his wife at their home in Texas if he did not pay. Chung told the businessman if “you don’t pay,” Chung’s crew “can’t eat.” The businessman handed $5,000 to the patron as well as his Rolex watch. Chung later obtained the businessman’s telephone number from the patron.
In September 2010, Chung left several recorded voice messages in which he threatened the businessman and his family. Chung eventually spoke with the businessman by telephone and reiterated those threats. A few days after that, Chung and Vorasith accepted a $1,000 payment for their efforts in attempting to collect the debt.
Chung, Choi, and Lee also sold drugs and guns to undercover agents throughout 2010 and 2011.
On September 17, 2013, a federal grand jury in Atlanta returned a 13-count indictment charging the defendants with extortion, drug trafficking, and firearms offenses. Each of the five defendants was convicted and sentenced (or is awaiting sentencing) as follows:
Ye El (“David”) Choi, 33, of Norcross, Georgia, pleaded guilty on February 13, 2015, via plea agreement, to one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion. On June 16, 2017, Choi will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr.
Athith (“Andy”) Vorasith, 36, of Auburn, Georgia, pleaded guilty on February 4, 2016, via plea agreement, to two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion. On July 11, 2016, Vorasith was sentenced to seven years, three months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Vorasith was also ordered to pay restitution of $8,500 to Victim # 1.
Eugene Thomas Chung, 43, of Duluth, Georgia, pleaded guilty on February 4, 2016, via plea agreement, to two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion. On May 19, 2017, Chung was sentenced to ten years, six months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Chung was also ordered to pay restitution of $8,500 to Victim # 1.
Thomas Jungwon (“Tommy”) Lee, 36, of Duluth, Georgia, pleaded guilty on February 16, 2017, via plea agreement, to one count of interfering with commerce by extortion. On May 16, 2017, Lee was sentenced to a time-served sentence, which amounted to one year, ten months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, to include 160 hours of community service.
Jong Sung (“John”) Kim, 52, of Suwanee, Georgia, went to trial and was convicted by a jury on March 2, 2017, on two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion. Kim was acquitted on two other extortion counts, including a conspiracy count. Kim will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Batten on June 5, 2017.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Ghose, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Scott Ferber, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine, and Emory Law School Extern Joshua E. Orlan.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.