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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Corrupt ICE Agent Wreaked Havoc, Business Owners Say

A corrupt immigration agent — now in federal prison — raided and shut down a Korean supper club to benefit a rival who’d been paying him off, owners of the shuttered business claim in court.

LAS VEGAS (CN) — A corrupt immigration agent — now in federal prison — raided and shut down a Korean supper club to benefit a rival who’d been paying him off, owners of the shuttered business claim in court.

Chang Ahn and three others were co-owners of and investors in a successful supper club, Club Yamang, in Las Vegas Chinatown. Its principal owner, nonparty Thomas Kim, was engaged to plaintiff Aeja Kim, who now is his wife.

But in the summer of 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Joohoon David Lee became friends with the owner of a competing Korean super club called Club Sonagi. Lee had authority to start investigations, seize evidence and make arrests, Ahn says in the Jan. 14 federal complaint.

He says Lee routinely visited Club Sonagi and ran up bills for food and alcohol for as much as $1,500 to $2,500 a visit without having to pay his tab.

“It was commonly understood by employees of Club Sonagi that Special Agent Lee was never to be presented with a bill and/or required to pay any money,” Ahn says in the complaint.

In June 2013, Ahn says, Lee and the owner of Club Sonagi “hatched a plan to drive Club Yamang out of business and into financial ruin” to benefit Club Sonagi.

“While drunk one evening at Club Sonagi … Lee boasted to some of the club’s waitresses that he was going to ‘raid’ Club Yamang in a few weeks … and made no secret of his status as a federal agent,” the complaint states.

Sure enough, on July 11, 2013, Homeland Security Investigations, under Lee’s direction, raided Club Yamang, which he portrayed as a place of “prostitution and human trafficking,” Ahn says in the lawsuit.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

“The raid was not supported by legitimate reasons,” the complaint states. “Instead it was based almost entirely upon SA Lee's representations and appeal to crass racial/ethnic stereotypes of Asian clubs as dens of prostitution and human trafficking, which SA Lee believed other government officials would be susceptible to believing.

“During the raid of Club Yamang, several Korean employees, mainly females, were detained by SA Lee and questioned at significant length about their immigration status and whether they were prostitutes.”

Lee arrested Thomas Kim’s fiancée, plaintiff Aeja, and took her to an ICE detention center, where he “subjected her to intense interrogation” and illegally placed a GPS tracking system on her, “without court order or the approval of an immigration judge,” Ahn says.

“He subsequently notified Aeja's fiancé, Thomas [Kim], when Thomas was finally allowed to see her, that the GPS would remain on Aeja for an indeterminate period of time and that he had the legal authority to monitor her for as long as he liked.”

Lee repeatedly returned to Club Yamang to interrogate workers and conduct surveillance, parking his government vehicle in the club parking lot to intimidate workers and customers, Ahn says. Lee also “recruit(ed) other agencies to join in the stalking and surveillance of Thomas, Aeja and other plaintiffs,” and he did this for more than a year, Ahn says.

Lee also entered misinformation into an ICE database, causing the detention of co-plaintiffs Hwan Jae and Mi Won, physically and emotionally devastating them and ruining their business, according to the complaint. It was not until November 2014, Ahn says, that the plaintiffs “learned for the first time that the ‘investigation’ that had been initiated by SA Lee was a complete fabrication and had no proper legal basis.”

A year later, after the damage had been done, Lee pleaded guilty to a federal charge of taking bribes from a Korean businessman who had been accused of trafficking a woman into the United States to use as a sex slave. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles announced Lee’s guilty plea the day he entered it, Dec. 18, 2015.

After taking $9,000 to $10,000, plus an expenses-paid trip to Seoul, Lee wrote up a report clearing the suspected human trafficker and closing the case, the U.S. attorney said in a statement.

“In this case, a federal law enforcement officer thwarted justice in exchange for just a few thousand dollars and hindered the ability of a possible trafficking victim to seek justice,” then-U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said.

Lee, who faced up to 15 years in federal prison, was sentenced to 10 months in July 2016 by U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald, who called it “a very, very grave crime.”

Ahn, Lee and Kim each seek at least $100,000 in damages for negligence and emotional distress. The only defendant is the United States of America.

They are represented by Paul Padda, who could not be reached by telephone on Thursday.

Club Sonagi no longer is open.

Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal, Government

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