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Financial Crimes

Former Fresno resident extradited from South Korea to face charges in investment fraud scheme

FRESNO, Calif. – A former Fresno resident is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Tuesday on federal money laundering charges for his alleged role in a fraud scheme that bilked investors out of several million dollars.

Kwan Yong Choi, 70, formerly of Daejeon City, South Korea, was escorted from South Korea to central California Friday by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Choi is named in an indictment handed down in 2010 with six counts of money laundering. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1.2 million fine. The charges are the result of a long-term probe by HSI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Cullers is prosecuting the case.

According to court documents, Choi began marketing a scheme in 2002 seeking investors to put money into his company, Sun Min Trading Inc. Choi told investors the company bought souvenirs and sold them to the White House. He purported the venture would make a 30 percent profit, with 10 percent going to "International Christian Mission Center" and 20 percent being returned to investors quarterly. Choi marketed the scheme to potential clients in California and elsewhere, making various false representations, including claiming the Mission Center was an extension of the CIA, that he was an ordained minister, and that the investments were secure.

"As with all financial scams, the victims in this case received promises of hefty profits, but they were the ones who ended up paying the price, including some who lost their life savings," said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. "We owe it to them to seek justice in this case. HSI special agents in Fresno and Seoul worked tirelessly to make it happen and, after seven years of investigative efforts, it's gratifying to know that day has come. We also owe a tremendous debt to the authorities in South Korea, whose cooperation was vital to assuring this defendant's return."

The indictment alleges that instead of investing the money from investors, Choi spent the funds on his own personal and business expenses, including payments for homes, cars, and credit card bills. He tried to lull investors into thinking 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 approximately $2 million.

According to the indictment, in order to disguise the unlawful source of his funds, Choi used the investor funds to pay down a line of credit on his home and then took cash out again from the line of credit.