MANHATTAN (CN) – People running a phony relief fund for victims of the Japanese tsunami of 2011 bilked donors of more than $800,000 by tugging at their heartstrings, a family claims in court.
Gahee An and Changtae Seo, a married couple living in Manhattan, regaled potential donors with stories of how they used their wealth, pedigrees and influence to form the Asia Culture Exchange Organization, or ACEO, according to the complaint in New York County Supreme Court.
Their alleged targets included a New Jersey mother, Yoon Jung Kim; her business, the Olympiad School; and her daughter, Hae Won Bang.
Kim, Bang, the school, SCTA LLC, SSOA LLC and OA Consulting Group sued Gahee An, Changtae Seo, the Asia Culture Exchange Organization, and SG International.
“An told Kim that Seo is wealthy and the son of a Korean congressman,” the complaint states. “An said that she is the granddaughter of the head of Korea’s SBS Broadcasting Group, had numerous celebrity friends and considerable real estate wealth.”
An claimed she had bought a $9 million Park Avenue building, and lived in a Soho penthouse, according to the complaint.
After introducing herself as a marketer for SG International, allegedly a textile company, An told Kim her real influence came from ACEO, which gave her direct access to the Japanese imperial family, President Barack Obama and international business titans, according to the complaint.
In fact, Kim says, both of An’s companies were alter egos to defraud investors.
“Following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, An told Kim that ACEO had established a Japan disaster relief fund which An said was tax exempt,” the complaint states. “An solicited donations to the fund from Kim and others. An told Kim that the donation would be forwarded directly to the relief headquarters in Japan.”
Flattering Kim as ACEO’s “favorite donor,” An promised to win favor for Olympiad students at Ivy League colleges and internships at top businesses and organizations, according to the complaint.
“Relying upon An’s aforesaid representations and believing them to be true, Kim and Olympiad donated $220,000 to ACEO,” the complaint states.
Telling her that ACEO had an investment arm through Merrill Lynch, An persuaded Kim to form two limited liability companies, SCTA and SSOA, according to the complaint.
Kim says she invested $405,000 into those plaintiff-LLCs. She claims that An told Kim’s daughter, Bang, that she could get an E-2 Visa by forming her own company, OA Consulting.
Bang claims that she invested $248,200 into this plaintiff-corporation.
In January this year, An and Seo bought a high-rise condo in midtown Manhattan for $1.26 million, according to the complaint.
Kim and Bang say they discovered weeks later that the defendants had entirely drained nearly all of their investments in the newly formed companies.
They seek more than $3.9 million in punitive damages for 14 counts, including fraud, unjust enrichment and conversion.
They are represented by Stephen Latzman.