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Wife of Pinkberry yogurt chain co-founder begs judge for leniency

Courts and the JudiciaryJustice SystemCrime, Law and Justice

The wife of Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee begged a judge Friday for leniency when her husband was sentenced for beating of a homeless man with a tire iron.

Lee's wife, Jieun Kim, wiped her eyes as she spoke to the judge through a translator.

"It hurts me deeply when my child, who just started speaking, asks for his dad," she said. "I beg you to not separate our family, to keep our family together." 

Kim told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall that she did not speak English and did not have residency in the United States. Clutching a pink handkerchief, she said she did not know what she would do if she had to return to her native Korea.

But Hall was blunt when addressing Lee in court, calling the 2011 attack "horrendous" and "fairly merciless."

Lee, 49, was convicted last year of beating Ronald Bolding while Bolding was panhandling along an East Hollywood street. Hall handed Lee the maximum sentence of seven years in prison Friday, despite his attorney's request that he be evaluated for possible probation.

"What this case boils down to at the end of the day, is nothing more or nothing less than a savage attack on a defenseless person," Hall said.

Hall warned that had it not been for a group of citizens who intervened in the attack, "we might be here talking about a wholly different set of facts."

Prosecutors said Bolding was panhandling by a 101 Freeway ramp when Lee pulled up in his Range Rover. Lee became angry when Bolding flashed a tattoo to people in the car -- including Lee's then-fiancee and other women -- showing a stick-figure couple having sex.

Lee drove off but returned with another man and beat Bolding. Prosecutors said Lee felt "disrespected" by Bolding, which prompted the attack.

The other attacker has not been identified, prosecutors said, and is believed to be in Korea.

Bolding suffered a broken left arm and several cuts to the head, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He has filed a personal injury lawsuit against Lee, seeking damages for the attack. Lee also allegedly threatened a witness.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Zoumberakis said Friday there were no plans to continue to investigate that threat in order to file charges.

Lee's attorney, Phillip Kent Cohen, had asked Hall for an evaluation to determine whether Lee's case was legally considered "unusual" enough to warrant probation rather than prison time.

Cohen said the evaluation would not be "condoning anything, but trying to get a better understanding of the switch that turned on."

Cameron Keys, described as a longtime friend of Lee's, told the judge Lee had been homeless about a decade ago while he battled drug and alcohol addictions. Since his recovery, Keys said, Lee was "thoughtful, serious" and "dedicated to his friends and family."

“Young makes friends easily,” Keys said.

Cohen pointed out that a “sea of people” and “many, many friends” were in court supporting Lee. At the end of the sentencing, as Lee was handcuffed, he stared at those in attendance before he was led out of the courtroom.

Though Lee helped found the frozen yogurt company in 2005, he is no longer involved with Pinkberry.

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kate.mather@latimes.com

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