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‘Crime super store’ sold stolen IDs used to defraud banks of millions… and?

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EDITORIAL : Federal authorities swept up dozens of Bergen County residents and others early Thursday in connection with a “crime superstore” that sold stolen identities that helped customers open lines of credit and conduct other types of illicit business. The victims? Banks and credit card companies.

I applaud anyone and everyone who brings law breakers to justice. But I’m not raising my hand if someone asks whether I sympathize with those who were “hurt” by these crimes.

Our country, our economy, our very way of life has been forever changed by the banks, by the mortgage lenders, by the fat cats who lined their pockets with enough bonuses and golden parachutes to start their own individual space programs.

In this case, a total of 53 people are charged, most of them from our neck o’ the woods. Nearly four dozen of them were rousted from their beds this morning in Palisades Park, Tenafly, River Edge and elsewhere and brought to FBI headquarters by hundreds of federal and local investigators. as media cameras rolled (Gee, how did they know to be there?).

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor

One of those charged, Kang Hyok Choi, wasn’t part of the perp walk. He has been in custody nearly two years, awaiting trial for a triple murder in Tenafly.

Authorities won’t say who tipped them off to the operation, but justice junkies might put their money on Choi, who may have been spending all this time trying to strike a deal with Bergen County prosecutors in exchange for inside information about the crew, which authorities said ripped off lenders to the tune of millions of dollars.

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. He’s being held on $5 million bail in the Bergen County Jail for the murders — and apparently had plenty of knowledge to get investigators digging.

“The activity in this instance was a virtual crime superstore, with one-stop shopping for a variety of criminal needs,” FBI Special Agent Michael B. Ward said in a prepared statement. “The criminal activity was sophisticated, and the extent of the fraud committed by this group is believed to be substantial, if not staggering.”

The ringleader, the feds said, was Sang-Hyun “Jimmy” Park of Palisades Park. He and his associates “obtained, brokered and sold identity documents that were used to commit fraud.”

Park’s 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 PalPark get driver’s licenses and other identification cards from various states, the FBI said.

A little finagling helped the group build credit scores to between 700 and 800, the feds 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.

They apparently had help: Nathan Buschman, 31, a manager at a JPMorgan Chase & Co. branch in Edgewater, and Zakchary Benji, 28, a loan officer at a Citibank Inc. branch in Clifton, are charged with helping to defraud the SBA by creating fake documents.

Park was so ballsy 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 a 138-page federal arrest complaint.

“The sheer scope of the fraud is remarkable,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said today at a news conference in Newark.

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, 44-year-old Yoon-Sang Kim of Allendale, was arrested Aug. 17 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.

Kim created shell companies that did more than $220,000 in business, the federal complaint against him alleges.

Also charged were Chun-O Kim, 44, the principal owner and operator of a purported general contracting company headquartered in Englewood, and his wife, Hosin Kim, 45, both of Edgewater.

Fishman praised special agents of the FBI, as well as investigators from the IRS Criminal Investigations unit; the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit; and the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General for the Eastern Region.

He also singled out detectives in the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office for what he said was their “indispensable” work in the probe. He also gave shout outs to the Englewood and Fort Lee police departments.

Prosecuting the cases for the government will be Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Moscato, Andre Espinosa, and Barbara Llanes of the Criminal Division in Newark.

“Ultimately, the credit-card companies were not paid, resulting in significant financial losses to the companies,” Fishman said.

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