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Another sentence in large-scale ID theft: Ridgefield woman gets federal prison time

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: A Ridgefield woman was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison today for her role in a Bergen County-based “crime superstore” that stole identities from people in Asia to get credit cards and bank loans that were used to buy fancy cars, fine whiskey and designer shoes.

Jung-Sook Ko, a/k/a “Grace Lim,” 48, of Ridgefield, admitted her crimes on Nov. 18 in Newark before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Schwartz.

She remained free on bond until being sentenced by Schwartz earlier today.

Dozens have also pleaded guilty in the massive case and have been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing.

Just about all of them were rousted from their beds early the morning of Sept. 16, 2010 by hundreds of federal and local investigators in Palisades Park, Tenafly, River Edge and elsewhere and brought to FBI headquarters in Newark.

Forty-two of those originally charged were directly involved in the massive fraud ring, which bilked banks and other financial establishments by stealing the identities of Asian immigrants who worked in Guam and other American territories, federal authorities said.

One of those charged, Kang Hyok Choi of Long Island, was already in custody — awaiting trial for a triple murder in Tenafly. Detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office alerted the FBI after finding evidence of the ID theft ring on a computer they found in the house.

Another member of the scheme, In-Suk Joo, 61, of Clark, N.J., pleaded guilty to conspiring to purchase a Social Security card to commit fraud. So did Min-Soo “Chris” Son, who admitted to kiting checks to cover credit card charges run up by the crew.

The scheme was run by Sang-Hyun “Jimmy” Park, of Palisades Park, who pleaded guilty to his role in federal court a year ago.

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 a 138-page federal arrest complaint.

Colluding merchants, many of them Korean, helped Park’s group obtain cash by swiping credit cards for phantom goods and services, Fishman said. For what was known as a “kkang fee,” the collusive merchants charged the fraudulently obtained credit cards, although no transaction took place.

As soon as the money landed in their bank accounts, the merchants passed the money up to Park, minus the fee.

Dong-Won Kim admitted that he was a major supplier of the Social Security cards to Sang-Hyun Park. He said he also escorted customers to Illinois where they used the 586 cards, altered Chinese passports, and other false documents to obtain identification cards and driver’s licenses.

He said he personally used one of the identities to apply for and obtain a 2008 Lexus Sports Utility Vehicle from a dealership in New York. He also admitted that he used one of his fraudulently obtained identities to apply for and obtain credit cards. As part of his plea agreement, Kim admitted costing lending institutions more than $400,000 in losses.

Park’s group also used the cards to buy expensive merchandise and liquor, and withdrew money from accounts with insufficient funds 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, made 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.

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

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 PalPark get driver’s licenses and other identification cards from various states.

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 — and more, one of the defendants, 45-year-old Chun-O Kim, admitted during her guilty plea this summer.

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.

Chun-O Kim, for instance, was the principal of a bogus firm called CB Development Company, which 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, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

“In addition, Kim admitted that she obtained and used both genuine and counterfeit identity documents, such as Social security numbers and driver’s licenses belonging to other individuals, to obtain lines of credit and commercial loans in those names,” Fishman said, in a statement.

“After obtaining the money, Kim and her co-conspirators transferred the funds into their bank accounts so they could withdraw the cash and write checks.” he 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.

Kyung-Ki Kim of Edison admitted she collected up to 20 bogus credit cards to buy whatever she wanted, with no intention of paying the bills. She had help, authorities said: Nathan C. Buschman, 32, of Hopatcong, N.J., admitted that he was the manager of an Edgewater branch of Washington Mutual Bank branch (that later became JP Morgan Chase Bank) when he falsified documents that moved the SBA loans through without catching the bank’s attention.

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, 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.

There’s plenty of praise to go around for bringing such a case — one that not only puts criminals behind bars but recovers a great deal of the money they stole. Fishman cited, among others, special agents from the SBA as well as investigators from the prosecutor’s office and the Englewood Police Department.

Prosecuting the intricate case were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barbara R. Llanes of the Fishman’s Criminal Division and Anthony Moscato of the Office’s Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.


Members of Bergen ID theft ‘superstore’ in federal court

Friday, 21 October 2011 02:01 Jerry DeMarco

BEHIND THE STORY: The final pins continue to fall in the federal probe of a Bergen County-based “crime superstore” that stole identities from people in Asia to get credit cards and bank loans that were used to buy fancy cars, fine whiskey and designer shoes:

Two more ID thieves plead guilty in ‘crime superstore’

Thursday, 13 October 2011 23:24 Jerry DeMarco

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: A former Ridgefield resident today admitted his role in a “crime superstore” that stole identities from people in Asia to get credit cards and bank loans they then used to buy fancy cars, fine whiskey and designer shoes, among other luxuries.

Korean immigrant from Bergen admits role in crime ‘super store’ that stole millions

Thursday, 11 August 2011 17:54 Jerry DeMarco

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: A Korean immigrant living in Edgewater today admitted her connection to a “crime superstore” that stole identities from people in Asia to get credit cards and bank loans they then used to buy fancy cars, fine whiskey and designer shoes, among other luxuries. As part of her plea, she agreed to repay the government $1.23 million.

Men admit roles in Asian ID theft ring that made millions

Monday, 20 June 2011 21:41 Jerry DeMarco

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Two men admitted their roles in a sophisticated identity theft ring, based in Palisades Park, that made millions of dollars by distributing counterfeit Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and passports for Asian immigrants in exchange for hefty fees.

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

Thursday, 16 September 2010 22:53 Jerry DeMarco

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.

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