CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: Government prosecutors started at the bottom of a “cr ime superstore” that stole identities from people in Asia to get credit they used to buy fancy cars, fine whiskey and designer shoes, among other luxuries — and today finally reached the summit with a guilty plea from the confessed ringleader from Palisades Park.
UPDATE: (Jan. 25, 2012): Hyun-Yop “James” Sung, 43, of Carlstadt pleaded guilty in federal court in Newark to conspiring to commit identify theft and credit card fraud with Park.
Sang-Hyun “Jimmy” Park, 45, admitted conspiring to make bogus ID, committing wire fraud and bank fraud, and laundering money, among other counts.
Park was at the top of the government’s organization chart of53 people arrested in a massive fraud ring that bilked banks and other financial establishments by stealing the identities of Asian immigrants who worked in Guam and other American territories.
Once they secured the IDs, the scam artists got credit cards and bank loans that they used to treat themselves to luxury cars, fine whiskey, designer shoes. Some even got cash advances, federal authorities 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.
UPDATE: Yu-Je Jo, 37, of Cliffside Park, was sentenced the next day to 30 months in federal prison for providing a fraudulent Social Security card, California driver’s license and counterfeit Korean passport as part of the scheme.
Special Agent-in-Charge Michael Ward, who heads the FBI’s Newark division, dubbed the operation “a virtual crime superstore, with one-stop shopping for a variety of criminal needs.” He called the extent of the fraud “substantial, if not staggering.”
Yet 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 that will put him in federal prison for several years.
Thecrew 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 PalPark get driver’s licenses and other identification cards from various states, Kim admitted.
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 theyt ransferred 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.
Ho K. Yu, a/k/a “Edmund,” 59, of Tenafly, – a co-conspirator who fraudulently
established credit scores for the enterprise’s customers and fraudulently obtained hundreds of
thousands of dollars in commercial loans for others – also pleaded guilty today to conspiring to commit wire fraud.
Both he and Park are scheduled to be sentenced on April 23.
Colluding merchants, many of them Korean, helped Park’s group obtain cash by swiping credit cards for phantom goods and services, Fishman said. Park’s group also used the cards to buy expensive merchandise and liquor, he 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.
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.
Authorities won’t say who tipped them off to the breadth of the operation, although some observers would put their money on Choi, who it’s believed struck a deal with local prosecutors for leniency in exchange for inside information about the crew.
Authorities said Choi, 35, of Valley Stream, N.Y., 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.
There’s plenty of praise to go around for bringing such a case — one that not only puts criminals behind bars but collects a huge chunk of the money they stole. Fishman cited, among others, special agents from the SBA as well as from Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli’s office and the Englewood Police Department. Prosecuting the intricate case were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jane Yoon and Anthony Moscato of Fishman’s Criminal Division in Newark.
It was more than a year ago when the defendants were rousted from their beds early in the morning in Palisades Park, Tenafly, River Edge and elsewhere and brought to FBI headquarters by hundreds of federal and local investigators.
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