Geum Yi

Former Koreatown attorney indicted for $47 million investment fraud

September 3, 2014
Justin Moongyu Lee (Korea Times file)

Justin Moongyu Lee (Korea Times file)

SANTA ANA (CNS) – A former immigration attorney from Los Angeles was charged today with running an investment scheme that conned foreign investors seeking permanent residency status in the United States out of about $47 million.

A federal grand jury in Santa Ana returned a nine-count indictment alleging that Justin Moongyu Lee stole the money from 94 foreign investors, partly using advertisements in foreign newspapers to solicit Korean and Chinese nationals to commit $500,000 each, plus another $40,000 for administrative and legal fees, in an immigrant investor program.

Lee guaranteed small annual returns on the investments, as well as green cards for foreign nationals but did not make the investments in the biofuel production facilities he promised and submitted bogus paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the indictment.

In a coordinated action, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint in Los Angeles against Lee for the same alleged crimes.

The indictment and lawsuit allege that Lee promised investors participation in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which offers a chance for permanent residency status by investing in a domestic project to create or preserve jobs for domestic workers.

Both cases contend that Lee, 57, of Hancock Park used the investment money for his own use. The ethanol plant was never built, the promised jobs were never created and the foreign nationals lost their opportunity to obtain permanent residency, according to officials.

Each of the nine wire fraud charges in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

The SEC case. which also names Lee’s wife Rebecca Taewon Lee and Thomas Edward Kent, alleges that the trio raised nearly $11.5 million from two dozen investors seeking to participate in the EB-5 program.

According to the SEC, the Lees and Kent concealed their failure to generate the jobs required by the EB-5 program by submitting false documents to the USCIS.

The Lees allegedly misused several million dollars raised from the ethanol plant investors for other purposes, such as financing an iron ore project in the Philippines, an allegation that is mirrored in the criminal indictment.

The State Bar of California has taken disciplinary action against Lee because of an alleged major misappropriation of client funds, and he is now longer allowed to practice law, officials said.

Lee is currently in custody in Korea.