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12 years in fed pen for Palisades Park ringleader in massive Asian ID theft ring

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

SPECIAL REPORT: What began as a murder investigation out of Tenafly culminated in the federal sentencing today of the admitted Palisades Park kingpin of a “crime superstore” to 12 years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden also ordered Sang-Hyun “Jimmy” Park to pay $4.7 million in restitution to the victimized banks, credit card companies and other lenders — while admitting that was extremely unlikely.

Kim, 48, will be deported to South Korea when he is released from prison, under federal law.

”I made wrong choices and this is how far I came,” Park told Hayden through an interpreter, insisting that he’d turned his life around.

It was two years ago last month that Park admitted heading up the operation, which stole identities from people in Asia to get credit for fancy cars, fine whiskey and designer shoes, among other luxuries.

And it was more than four years ago that the investigation began, thanks to work by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

Before federal authorities were through, they had obtained pleas or convictions of 54 people, including Park.

Park topped the government’s organizational chart of thieves and accomplices who bilked banks and other financial establishments using the stolen identities of Asian immigrants who worked in Guam and other American territories.

The crew got Social Security cards from various brokers — most with the prefix 586 — issued to Chinese workers in American Samoa, Guam and Saipan. They sold the cards for $5,000 to $7,000 and then helped customers from in and around Palisades Park get driver’s licenses and other identification cards from various states.

A little finagling helped the group build credit scores to between 700 and 800, authorities said. With those numbers, they were able to open bank accounts and obtain credit cards, lines of credits and loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

One bogus firm, called CB Development Company, produced phony documents – such as counterfeit certificates of trade and fictitious tax returns – to secure lines of credit and commercial loans for herself and her co-conspirators. Then they transferred the funds into their bank accounts “so they could withdraw the cash and write checks,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

Many of these lines of credit and loans were guaranteed by the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), which helps small businesses by guaranteeing loans issued by certain banks.

The thieves built up the credit scores by adding the stolen identity to an authorized user who agreed to the scheme in return for a fee. Scores for the bogus IDs shot up to from 700 to 800 as a result.

They had help: A manager at a JPMorgan Chase & Co. branch in Edgewater and a loan officer at a Citibank Inc. branch in Clifton were among those charged with helping to defraud the SBA by creating fake documents.

Park and his co-conspirators also got collusive merchants to process credit card transactions through swipe machines even though none occurred. In exchange, the merchants got what’s known as a “kkang fee.”

With the profits, crew members treated themselves to luxury cars, fine whiskey, designer shoes. Some even got cash advances, federal authorities said.

The defendants also deposited checks into accounts with insufficient funds and withdrew money before anyone noticed, the feds said. They also wrote checks to pay down credit cards and then charged them to the maximum, Fishman said.

In one case, ring members leased Lexuses or Mercedes, make one payment, then sold the cars, the FBI said.

The bills ended up going to people on the other side of the globe who had no idea what happened. The banks, in turn, took the losses.

Park was so brazen that he advertised in local Korean newspapers that “he and his co-conspirators could obtain driver’s licenses, credit cards, and money for their customers, virtually all of whom were of Korean descent,” according to the original 138-page federal arrest complaint.

The FBI dubbed the operation “a virtual crime superstore, with one-stop shopping for a variety of criminal needs.”

The bureau called the extent of the fraud “substantial, if not staggering.”

The government chased down those involved and secured dozens of guilty pleas. With so many people willing to present their version of the events, Park had little choice but to accept a plea deal.

Detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office got onto the trail after arresting a man named Kang-Hyok Choi and charging him with killing an associate and two of the victim‘s family members in Tenafly in 2008. The men apparently had been arguing over how to split profits from the illicit enterprise.

It was the first break in what became one of the largest identify fraud cases prosecuted in New Jersey.

Authorities said Choi, of Valley Stream, stole several credit cards from one of the victims, pulled $100,000 from the accounts, then flew to Los Angeles, where he was arrested on May 18, 2008, on a warrant out of Bergen County. Police said he was carrying $88,000 in cash, $14,000 in casino chips, 27 credit cards, two driver’s licenses, and two identification cards — none in his name — when he was arrested.

Prosecutor’s detectives also seized a computer during the investigation that led them directly to Park’s crew.

They then plucked an unidentified co-conspirator who bought a genuinely issued U.S. Social Security card and a counterfeit Korean passport while working for the government.

Dozens of people accused of participating in Park’s operation were scooped up one September 2011 morning in Palisades Park, Tenafly, River Edge and elsewhere and brought to FBI headquarters by hundreds of federal and local investigators.

One of the defendants, Yoon-Sang Kim of Allendale, was arrested in Fort Lee while driving a vehicle registered to his wife, authorities said. In the car, police found several counterfeit IDs with Kim’s photograph in other people’s names, some of which were used to open bogus bank accounts.

Fishman credited agents from the FBI and IRS, as well as those from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, whose detectives‘ work made the case possible.

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