Parents Sue Son’s Alleged Killer

     SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – Parents of a slain professional wakeboarder turned businessman claim in court that their son’s business partner, and alleged killer, stole his identity to “convert and fraudulently transfer (his) assets.”
     Steve and Debi Smith sued their son Chris’s business partner Edward Shin and others in Orange County Court.
     Shin was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Aug. 28, 2011 while about to board a flight to Canada, according to contemporary news reports. “He was charged with a felony count of ‘special circumstances murder for financial gain,'” Chris’s parents say. “At first, Shin confessed to the homicide. Later, he recanted his confession.”
     The parents also sued Chris’s and Shin’s business, The 800 Exchange LLC; Shin’s father, James Shin; Edward Shin’s wife, Karen Shin; Shin’s alleged accomplice Kenny Kraft; 800 Exchange vice president, and Chris’s lawyer Ernesto Aldover.
     According to the parents’ complaint, the story began in 2008, when Edward Shin and Chris Smith worked for competing sales lead generators, Chris for Los Angeles-based LeadPoint and Shin for LG Technologies in the San Fernando Valley.
     Unbeknownst to his bosses at LG, Shin allegedly started his own lead-generation business – LP Services – even though LG eventually named him president of the company.
     LG sued Edward Shin, Chris Smith and others in 2009, in Riverside County Court.
     Once ensconced as LG’s head, Shin hired Chris as an independent consultant and LeadPoint fired Chris the same day.
     According to LG’s 2009 lawsuit, Shin and Chris Smith colluded to set up the secret company and “directed valuable business to that venture and to others, diverted leads from LG’s lead exchange … defrauded LG, misappropriated LG’s trade secrets, converted LG’s funds and intentionally interfered with LG’s business relations.”
     The LG complaint claims that Shin funneled $1 million of its money into his secret startup.
     Chris left LG at the end of 2008 and Shin resigned in March 2009. LG sued them in April and went after Shin’s and his wife’s joint bank account – on the same day Chris and Shin co-founded The 800 Exchange, according to an Aug. 31, 2011 report in the OC Weekly.
     In the new complaint, Chris’s parents claim that that’s when Shin developed his conspiracy “to wrongfully protect and advance the interests of Shin at the expense of Shin’s business partner, Chris.”
     The parents claim Shin’s first move was to steer Chris into hiring defendant Aldover to defend him in the LG complaint.
     “Shin steered Chris to Aldover because he knew that Aldover would not be competent to protect Chris’s business interests against Shin and that he would be easily manipulated, in part because Aldover would look to Shin rather than to Chris for payment,” the complaint states. “Plaintiffs are informed and believe that Shin chose Aldover because he knew him to be an inexperienced and malleable solo practitioner working out of a storefront office in Torrance, and that Aldover lacked the experience, resources or capacity to protect Chris in major costly and complex business litigation, thereby giving Shin, whose interests were directly adverse to Chris, an advantage.”
     After police arrested Shin for allegedly embezzling from LG in late 2009, Chris’s parents say, their son became worried that things might be “fishy.”
     In May 2010 Shin pleaded guilty and to avoid prison time agreed to settle LG’s civil suit by paying $700,000 in restitution, the parents say. LG dropped its claims against the other defendants, including Chris.
     “Because Shin turned out to be a confessed embezzler who ensnared Chris in potentially disastrous litigation, Chris wanted nothing further to do with Shin,” the parents say in the new complaint. “Chris made arrangements to have Shin buy out Chris’s partnership share of The 800 Exchange. With the knowledge of their respective counsel, Shin and Chris negotiated a buyout agreement under which Shin agreed to pay [Chris] $1 million for Chris’s share of The 800 Exchange business. In an email from attorney Aldover to Chris dated June 2, 2010, Aldover wrote,
     ‘Based on our discussions, I will insist that the moneys [for the buyout] be put in an escrow first and that the operating agreement be signed before you sign the settlement.'”
     On June 4, 2010 – the day Shin’s buyout of Chris’s share of their business was supposed to be complete – Chris expressed concern in emails to Aldover that Shin might be up to his old tricks again, his parents say in the complaint.
     Chris told Aldover they needed to create a sub-account “‘for now until we move funds to S2 Management. We need to make sure he [Shin] doesn’t have room for fraud. He is itching to do it again. Also, we need all statements up to prior day of all activity in the US Louvers account given to us. It can be provided by the bank if need so Ed [Shin] doesn’t white out anything WHICH HE WILL TRY,'” according to the complaint. (Brackets and capitals as in complaint.)
     His parents say that June 4, 2010 was the last day anyone saw Chris alive.
     Police investigators believe Shin lured Chris to The 800 Exchange office in San Juan Capistrano on the pretext of completing the buyout. There he allegedly murdered Chris and defendant Kenny Kraft helped by disposing of the body and helping Shin clean and repaint the office.
     Police also believe – and Chris’s parents contend in their complaint – that Shin then posed as Chris for months, sending Chris’s family emails telling them about a trip around the world.
     He assumed Chris’s identity “to convert and fraudulently transfer Chris’s assets into bank accounts controlled by Shin and The 800 Exchange located in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere,” the complaint states. “Plaintiffs are informed and believe that Shin was aided and abetted in this scheme by Shin’s father, James C. Shin, his wife, Karen Shin, his business associate Adam Pestritto, and by others named herein as Doe defendants.”
     The parents say that Shin sent Chris’s family emails that Chris had hired a 45-foot yacht, a captain and a cook, and was exploring the coast of South America. Also, acting as Chris, Shin instructed Aldover to cancel escrow on his portion of the LG settlement, saying in a document that “[b]oth Smith and Shin agree to execute the Settlement between LG Technologies and All Defendants including Shin, Smith, 800 Exchange, LP Services, in exchange for a Good Faith payment of $30,000 and 10 Gold Coins paid to Smith towards the Full Unit Purchase of Smith’s Units of 800 Exchange by Shin,” the parents say in their complaint.
     On Aug. 4, 2010 Shin wrote to Aldover as Chris again, the parents say. “I’ve been sailing around Argentina’s tip and it’s hard to find public internet spots in these ports. … I love it down here, might never come back. HA. Just kidding,” according to the complaint. (Ellipses and emphasis in complaint.)
     On Aug. 12, Shin, posing as Chris, told Chris’s parents he planned to be out of the United States for another four weeks. The next day, the parents say, “Chris” told his father he was thinking of doing “‘the unspeakable.'”
     A month later, “Chris” gave his parents another scare by email.
     “On September 17, 2010, Shin writing as Chris sent a frightening email to Steve Smith saying that Chris was feeling bad, taking excessive drugs, and again contemplating suicide. On that same date, Shin writing as Chris sent an email to Chris’s brother, Paul Smith, saying that everything was going fine and inviting Paul to meet him Costa Rica,” the parents say in their complaint.
     Six weeks after that, “Chris” told his family by email that he was “heading to Morocco via Cyprus, that he was jumping on a yacht with a guy he just met who was sailing to Egypt, and then he was going off to the Serengeti and the Congo where he was going to try and find some diamonds,” the complaint states.
     On Dec. 12, 2010, “Chris” told Aldover that he didn’t plan on returning to the United States: “‘I’ve withdrawn all my funds and will not be on record with the U.S. anymore,'” according to the complaint. “‘It was always my intention to move when I had the opportunity and when given the chance I took it, I’m happy where I am now.'”
     Chris’s parents claim this indicated that Shin had finished converting all of Chris’s financial assets, so Shin’s need for the charade was coming to an end.
     On Dec. 26, 2010, Chris’s brother Paul received the last email from “Chris,” telling him that he was going to Rwanda and then returning to the Congo.
     Believing Chris had committed suicide or had been killed in Africa, his parents say, they reported him missing to the U.S. State Department in March 2011.
     “‘You should file a missing persons report with whatever police department has jurisdiction over his U.S. residence,'” a State Department official told them. “‘As again at this time there is no confirmation he actually departed the United States, the local police should be investigating the case,'” the complaint states.
     Chris’s parents filed a missing persons report with law enforcement in Orange County, and continued to email Chris throughout 2011 but received no response. But an unexpected break came in July 2011, when two private investigators who rented space in the same building as The 800 Exchange discovered what they thought was blood on the door jamb of Chris’s and Shin’s office suite and called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
     “After officers were permitted to enter the San Juan Capistrano office suite, a ‘significant amount of blood evidence’ was discovered. DNA testing confirmed that the blood was that of decedent Chris Smith. Murder suspect Shin was placed under surveillance. On August 28, 2011, Shin was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport while attempting to board a flight to Canada. He was charged with a felony count of ‘special circumstances murder for financial gain.’ At first, Shin confessed to the homicide. Later, he recanted his confession,” Chris’s parents say in their complaint.
     Two days later, police arrested Kenny Kraft and charged him as an accessory to Chris’s murder, the complaint states. Kraft confessed to helping Shin dispose of Chris’s clothing and personal belongings, including his 2009 Range Rover, which was eventually found in San Jose, nearly 400 miles from San Juan Capistrano.
     Chris’s body has never been found. According to a report in the San Juan Capistrano Patch, authorities combed the desert in eastern San Diego County for Chris’s remains to no avail.
     The Patch reported that Chris’s parents also filed suit this year against the Laguna Beach Police Department, accusing them of bungling the initial investigation. Chris lived in Laguna Beach and his parents filed their missing persons report there, and they claim investigators failed to do their work properly and promptly.
     The parents seek damages for wrongful death by homicide and fraud by identity theft against Shin and Kraft, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Shin. They seek damages from the Shins, Adam Pestritto and The 800 Exchange for fraudulent transfer and conversion through conspiracy, and from Ernesto Aldover for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty.
     The Smiths are represented by Nicholas Hornberger of Los Angeles.

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