"Crime Superstore" Busted by Feds in NJ and NY

Bank fraud, identity theft ring targeted Asian immigrants

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Damian Trujillo

    More than 200 FBI agents have made dozens of arrests across New Jersey in a major bank fraud and identity theft crackdown.

    More than 50 people have been arrested in connection with Operation Golden Brokers.

    Among those charged is Kang-Hyok Choi, 35, of Valley Stream, N.Y., who is in the Bergen County Jail on $5 million bond for the murders of three Tenafly residents back in May 2008.

    Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said the state will argue at Choi's trial that he and one of his victims were arguing over commissions from an ID and bank card scheme. Molinelli said it was the discovery of that scheme --  two years ago -- that lead lawmen to believe it may be happening elsewhere in the Korean-American community.

    The FBI was contacted and with the help of an undercover agent and several cooperating witnesses, found several much larger operations that were brought down today.

     At a news conference in Newark, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Ward used the term 'crime superstore' to describe the activity of some 53 people who were charged in the scheme that the agency claimed dates back several years.

    The 122 page criminal complaint described an operation that was called the Park Criminal Enterprise in which, for a fee of $5,000 to $7,000, members "obtained, brokered and sold" social security cards and other identification.

    In a wiretap, the alleged mastermind, Sang-Hyun Park, was quoted as telling a prospective buyer "We get like ten customers a day."

    But beyond the identity fraud, the complaint went on to claim that the Enterprise would then help customers who got fake ID's to "build up" their credit scores, obtain credit cards, and then help them cheat credit card companies with real purchases that would never be paid for, or cash withdrawals using fake payments.

    Among the bank victims are some big names like Bank of America, Citibank, Wachovia, TD and PNC.

    One popular fraud described in the Complaint was called kkang(Kahng) which in the Korean community is reportedly known as using cooperating merchants to get cash from a credit card that was never paid back(merchants would get a 'kkang fee').

    "The sheer scope of the fraud--and the organization that allegedly commited it--is remarkable," said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in a press release.

    Almost all of those charged appear to be Korean-American, with most living in New Jersey. However, arrests were also made in Queens, and in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.

    As they were brought in to FBI headquarters in Newark, all of them cuffed, there were both men and women, older and perhaps as young as in their twenties.

    The suspects used Social Security numbers from legal immigrants who worked in American territories, including Guam, to apply for driver's licenses under fake names, authorities said. Authorities say they used those identities to obtain credit cards.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY