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Professional Responsibility
07/26/2016

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Former ICE special agent sentenced to federal prison for taking bribes from businessman being investigated for human trafficking

LOS ANGELES – A former special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was sentenced Tuesday to 10 months in federal prison for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from a Korean businessman.

Joohoon David Lee, 43, who currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, who called the bribery “a very, very grave crime.” Lee pleaded guilty last December to one count of bribery, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

“This defendant sold his position of authority as a law enforcement officer for a few thousand dollars,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “As a consequence of this abuse of trust, he will now pay a far more significant price. This defendant’s crime, however, should not cast a shadow over the tens of thousands of law enforcement officers across the country who are carrying out their duties with honor and dedication.”

Lee accepted bribe money from a Korean man identified in court documents at “H.S.” According to court documents, Lee, who was assigned to HSI’s Human Trafficking unit in Los Angeles, interviewed a woman in March 2012 who claimed that she was entering the United States to be a sex slave for H.S. About a year later, according to court filings, Lee met with an attorney representing H.S. and told the lawyer that Lee could fly to Korea, interview H.S. and submit a favorable report – if H.S. would finance the trip.

“Thereafter, H.S.’s family arranged to have a relative, who was living in Southern California, travel to Las Vegas, where, by this time, defendant Lee had been transferred, and handed defendant Lee $3,000 in cash,” according to a sentencing memo filed by prosecutors that notes Lee purchased a plane ticket to Seoul, Korea, the following day. Lee travelled to Seoul, where H.S. paid for Lee’s hotel and entertainment expenses. While in Korea, “Lee asked [H.S.] for $100,000 to make H.S.’s immigration issues go away,” according to the sentencing memo. H.S. ultimately paid Lee between $6,000 and $7,000 in cash.

Upon returning to the U.S., Lee prepared a report related to the investigation of H.S. that read: “Subject was suspected of human trafficking. No evidence found and victim statement contradicts. Case closed. No further action required.”

“Those who work in law enforcement are supposed to uphold our nation’s laws, not willingly break them,” said Jeffrey Gilgallon, assistant special agent in charge for ICE OPR in Los Angeles. “As this case shows, ICE has zero tolerance for public officials who abuse their authority and violate the public’s trust to feed their own greed. Guarding against illegal or unethical behavior is not an option; it’s an obligation we have to the people we serve.”

The case against Lee was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lizabeth A. Rhodes, Chief of the General Crimes Section.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/27/2016