SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A former immigration attorney from Los Angeles was charged Wednesday with running an investment scheme that bilked $47 million from foreign investors seeking permanent residency status in the United States.
A federal grand jury in Santa Ana returned a nine-count indictment accusing Justin Moongyu Lee of stealing money from 94 foreign investors, partly using advertisements in foreign newspapers to solicit Korean and Chinese nationals to commit $500,000 each, plus another $40,000 for administrative and legal fees, in an immigrant investor program.
Lee guaranteed small annual returns on the investments, as well as green cards for foreign nationals but did not make the investments in the biofuel production facilities he promised and submitted fraudulent paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the indictment.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have also filed a civil complaint in Los Angeles against Lee for the same alleged crimes.
The indictment and lawsuit claim that Lee promised investors participation in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which offers a chance for permanent residency status by investing in a domestic project to create or preserve jobs for domestic workers.
Both cases allege that the 57-year-old Hancock Park resident used investment money for his own use. The ethanol plant was never built, the promised jobs were never created and officials say the foreign nationals lost their opportunity to obtain permanent residency.
The SEC case, which also names Lee’s wife, Rebecca Taewon Lee, and Thomas Edward Kent, alleges the trio raised nearly $11.5 million from two dozen investors seeking to participate in the EB-5 program. The SEC claims the Lees and Kent concealed their failure to generate the jobs required by the EB-5 program by submitting false documents to the USCIS.
The Lees allegedly misused several million dollars raised from the ethanol plant investors for other purposes, such as financing an iron ore project in the Philippines, an allegation that is repeated in the criminal indictment.
Each of the nine wire fraud charges in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. The State Bar of California has also taken disciplinary action against Lee because of an alleged major misappropriation of client funds, and he is no longer allowed to practice law, officials said.
Lee is in custody in South Korea.
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