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Financial Crimes

Former Fresno resident extradited from South Korean pleads guilty for role in investment fraud scheme

FRESNO, Calif. — A former Fresno-area resident who masterminded several lucrative fraud schemes pleaded guilty earlier this week to six counts of money laundering, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Kwan Yong Choi, 73, who pleaded guilty Feb. 10, faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced April 21. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Cullers and Heather Mardel Jones are prosecuting the case.

According to court documents, in 2002, Choi, formerly of Daejeon City, South Korea, began marketing a scheme for 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 claimed the venture would make a 30 percent profit, with 10 percent going to a purported charity named "International Christian Mission Center," and 20 percent being returned to investors every quarter. Choi specifically targeted persons of Korean descent in California and elsewhere using a variety of false representations. Choi claimed 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 their investments were making a profit by providing 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.