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Korean Pleads Guilty to Running Superstore of Identity Theft
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January 11, 2012, 06:13 PM
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Illegal aliens who come to rip off Americans have a natural interest in ID theft because it benefits them so directly. Good fake papers are the keys to the kingdom of jobs, mortgages, banking and outright theft using credit cards.

On Monday, Korean Sang-Hyun Park pleaded guilty in a New Jersey courtroom to being the ringleader of a so-called crime superstore. Park was arrested with 53 other Koreans for the scheme last fall — like many foreigners, he kept the jobs created within the tribe. The crime organization is credited with stealing $4 million via fraud from credit card companies, banks and lenders.

Alleged leader of massive Bergen County identify theft, fraud ring pleads guilty, Newark Star-Ledger, January 10, 2012

NEWARK — The alleged leader of a massive identity theft and financial-fraud ring run by Korean immigrants living in Bergen County sat impassively at the defense table Monday, as he listened to the judge’s words through a quick-talking court interpreter.

Sang-Hyun Park, 45, could manage only a barely audible “yes” as he answered the judge’s numerous, detailed questions Monday, before he pleading guilty in Newark federal court to running a complex identity theft scheme between 2007 and September 2010 that costs numerous banks millions of dollars.

Clad in a dark-green prison jumpsuit, Park is likely be deported to South Korea after serving what is expected to be a decade or more in prison. He was perhaps the biggest player among the 54 people rounded-up in a massive federal sweep in 2010, authorities said.

“Today, ‘Jimmy’ Park admitted he ran an organization which obtained Social Security numbers through fraud, manufactured fake IDs, ripped off banks and retailers and laundered a portion of millions in profits overseas,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said Monday.

In all, authorities said, Park defrauded various credit card companies, banks and lenders out of about $4 million. He and his co-conspirators also claimed more than $182,000 in tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service through the filing of false and fictitious tax returns and accompanying documents, they said.

Using storefronts in Bergen County, along with placing ads in local Korean-language newspapers, Park and other defendants first hijacked the identities of Chinese immigrants who had worked at warehouses and factories in South Pacific U.S. territories, such as Guam and Saipan, authorities said.

Then, in an multi-step scheme that federal investigators in 2010 said was nearly unprecedented in its breadth and ingenuity, the group used the phantom identities to help customers get fake driver’s licenses from states like Illinois and California that Park and other conspirators considered to be easier to fool.

Armed with the phony credentials, the group then helped customers inflate credit scores by adding the Chinese names to accounts held by members of his enterprise who had credit scores topping 700. After several months of sharing an account with near-flawless credit, the scores of Park’s customers soared, too, making them ready to hit banks, authorities said.

In some cases, they applied for credit cards, using them to buy jewelry, Ferragamo shoes and 15-year-old Johnnie Walker whiskey, authorities have said. Or, they swiped the cards through machines at shell companies or their own businesses, duping the banks into sending them the money directly.

When time came to pay their credit cards bills, the suspects mailed a check from an empty account to pay their balance, authorities have said. In many cases, the bank credited the account the moment the check arrived. Before it bounced, the suspects went on a second spending spree.

Authorities also explained Monday that Park had relied on several collusive merchants who possessed credit card processing, or swipe, machines. For a fee, these merchants charged the fraudulently obtained credit cards, although no transaction took place, giving the amount of money charged back to Park and others.

Park pleaded guilty before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Patty Swartz to five counts in all: conspiracy to unlawfully produce identification documents and false identification documents; conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting financial institutions and bank fraud; aggravated identity theft; money laundering; and conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

When sentenced on April 23, Park faces a maximum sentence of 70 years and more than $2 million in fines.He is also subject to having to make restitution.

Park’s attorney said after the hearing that his client “does feel a lot of shame and remorse.” He added that he’d come to the U.S, in 1999 to start a legitimate import business of clothing threads from Central America, but it failed. Park, he said, had borrowed some $100,000 from his mother in Korea for the business, and after it failed, he was prompted to commit the crimes.