The owner and operators behind a network of four Koreatown-area schools that authorities allege were a front for a "pay-to-stay" immigration scheme pleaded not guilty to federal charges Thursday, according to prosecutors.
Three people, including owner and headmaster Hee Sun "Leonard" Shim, 51, of Beverly Hills, were arrested Wednesday as authorities announced an indictment alleging that few of the hundreds of students enrolled actually attended the schools, and that many in fact lived out of state and had never set foot on campus.
Shim and employees Hyung Chan "Steve" Moon and Eun Young "Jamie" Choi are accused of immigration offenses and conspiracy. Shim faces additional charges, including money laundering. Bail was set at $380,000 for Shim and $50,000 for Moon and Choi at the time of their arraignment Thursday, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.
Donald Randolph, Shim's attorney, said: "My client is a respected member of his community and has asserted his innocence through his not-guilty plea today."
Moon's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Choi's attorney declined to comment.
The three are accused of having been involved in the operations of schools that offered immigration paperwork to students for as much as $1,800 for six months, assuring them they did not need to attend classes. Among those listed as active students were people living in Las Vegas, Seattle, Dallas and Honolulu, according to an affidavit in the case.
Authorities paid routine, unannounced visits at the schools – Prodee University/Neo-America Language School; Walter Jay M.D. Institute, an Educational Center; the American College of Forensic Studies; and Likie Fashion and Technology College – and found that there were few, if any, classes in session. Some had only one to three students. An instructor told investigators that one of his classes, Introduction to Politics, regularly had zero students, according to the affidavit.
When officials asked for records for the students, Shim sent shoddy files that listed the same bank account number for multiple students and contained clear signs that they'd been doctored, according to the affidavit.
Investigators said they suspected the scheme brought in about $6 million a year.