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Financial Crimes

Korean man who perpetrated high-dollar fraud schemes sentenced

Ordered to pay more than $2 million in restitution to victims

FRESNO, Calif. — A former Fresno-area resident who posed as a pastor and masterminded several lucrative fraud schemes was sentenced Monday to three years in prison on charges stemming from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Kwan Yong Choi, 72, of Fresno, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. In addition to the prison term, Choi was also ordered to pay $2.1 million in restitution to 13 victims of his investment fraud scheme here in the U.S.

Choi was arrested in Fresno in 2006 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 later that year, 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 U.S. 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 the company bought souvenirs and sold them to the White House. He claimed 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. Choi lulled 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 more than $2 million.

This case was the product of a probe by Fresno 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 U.S. Attorneys Mark E. Cullers and Heather M. Jones prosecuted the case.