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Document and Benefit Fraud

NJ man pleads guilty to his role in identity theft and tax evasion ring

NEWARK, N.J. — A New Jersey man pleaded guilty Wednesday in connection with his role in a large-scale identity-theft scheme. If convicted, he faces up to 52 years in prison. This case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), FBI, Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Criminal Investigation and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

Sang-Kyu Seo, 63, of Palisades Park, N.J., pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to unlawfully produce identification documents and false identification documents, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and tax evasion.

According to court documents, Seo was the owner and operator of Hang Jin Yi Inc., doing business as Hwangini, a salon located in North Bergen, N.J., and Pier 7 Corporation, a purported small business located in Palisades Park.

Seo conspired with Sang-Hyun Park, aka Jimmy, and others, to obtain a Social Security number beginning with the prefix '586' for another individual. These 586 Social Security numbers were issued by the U.S. to individuals, usually from China, who were employed in American territories, such as Guam. Park is alleged to have been the leader of a criminal organization headquartered in Bergen County that obtained, brokered and sold identity documents to customers to commit credit card fraud, bank fraud, tax fraud and other crimes. Park pleaded guilty Jan. 9 to his role in the enterprise, and is awaiting sentencing.

This criminal enterprise engaged in the fraudulent 'build-up' of credit scores associated with the Chinese identities. They did so by adding the Chinese identity as an authorized user to the credit card accounts of various co-conspirators - members of the enterprise's credit build-up teams who received a fee for this service. By attaching the Chinese identities to these existing credit card accounts, the teams increased the credit scores associated with the Chinese identities to between 700 and 800. The members of the build-up teams did not know the real person to whom the identity belonged or virtually any of the customers who had purchased the identities.

After building up the credit associated with these identities, Park and his co-conspirators directed, coached and assisted the customers in opening bank accounts and obtaining credit cards. Park and his co-conspirators then used these accounts and credit cards to commit fraud. Park relied on several collusive merchants who possessed credit card processing machines. For a fee, known as a 'kkang fee,' these collusive merchants charged the fraudulently obtained credit cards, although no transaction took place. After receiving the money into their merchant accounts from these fraudulent transactions, the collusive merchants gave the money to Park and his co-conspirators, minus their kkang fee.

Seo admitted that he obtained a 586 Social Security card and counterfeit driver's licenses through Park for a family member, who then used this identity to 'bust out' credit cards. Seo also admitted that he gave his corporate and personal credit cards to Park for the purpose of 'busting out' these maxed-out credit cards. In furtherance of this conspiracy, Park and his co-conspirators issued worthless checks, drawn on bank accounts that had been established using the 586 identities, as payment toward the balances on Seo's credit cards.

Before the banks and credit card companies realized that these checks were bogus, Park and his co-conspirators charged Seo's credit cards through collusive merchants or used them to purchase merchandise.

Seo also admitted that in 2007, with the assistance of a loan broker, he fraudulently obtained a $100,000 commercial loan on behalf of Pier 7. Seo admitted that he and the loan broker made false statements to obtain the loan including falsely representing that his businesses annual revenue was about $620,000.

Finally, Seo admitted that he committed tax evasion by issuing checks to himself and others, representing income derived through the operation of Hwangini, and then failing to report this income on his personal tax returns.

Seo admitted that in April 2008, he filed an individual income tax return for tax year 2007. This return declared that his taxable income for calendar year 2007 was about $197, and the amount of tax due and owing was about $19. Seo admitted that this return failed to include $304,848 in additional taxable income that he had received in 2007, thus having an additional tax of $81,643 due to the United States government.

Seo's sentencing is scheduled for May 14.