Man charged with extorting karaoke bars, hostesses in Koreatown
A Woodland Hills man has been charged with shaking down workers in the Koreatown karaoke industry, allegedly enforcing his demands by beating one victim with a baseball bat and shooting another.
Daekun Cho, 38, was arrested Thursday and charged with the federal offense of interfering with commerce by threats or violence.
Nadine Hettle, the deputy public defender assigned to his case, declined to comment. If convicted, Cho faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Michael Choi, a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations, identified Cho in an affidavit as a member of the Grape Street Crips, a predominantly Black gang based in Watts’ Jordan Downs housing project.
In 2022, Los Angeles police cultivated an informant who said Cho was collecting monthly protection fees from karaoke bar owners and doumi, or hostesses, Choi wrote.
“Here’s a couple,” the sergeant says, motioning toward two young women shuffling past with doll-like makeup, perfectly coiffed hair and dresses clinging tightly to their petite frames.
A man who drove doumi to karaoke lounges told police that Cho approached him in the parking lot of one such business in 2019 and demanded payment in return for protection.
On the 15th of every month, the driver and his business partner paid Cho with cash or through Venmo, Choi wrote, without specifying the amounts.
In 2021, after the driver refused to pay an increased rate, Cho and another man pulled him from his car outside McQueen Karaoke on Western Avenue and beat him with baseball bats, breaking his arm, the agent wrote. An associate who had been on the phone with the driver told police that he heard the driver screaming, “I will pay! I will pay!”
Cho also stole the Honda Odyssey the driver had been using to transport the doumi, according to the affidavit.
At 1:30 a.m. on a Friday in July 2022, another driver pulled into the lot outside On and Off Karaoke to drop off two doumi, Choi wrote.
Cho pulled open the car door and told the driver that no one from his company was allowed to drop off doumi at the bar, the affidavit says.
As the driver pulled into the street to leave, he heard gunshots and the sound of glass shattering. One of the doumi was bleeding from a gunshot wound to her neck, he told police.
Another driver said he had paid Cho every month for four years before deciding to stop. He was sitting in his car in January, he told agents, when Cho attacked him and robbed him of $1,000. The next day, he sent Cho $400 through Venmo, Choi’s affidavit says. The driver began working with investigators and agreed to wear a wire the next time he made a payment.
When Cho messaged him through the KaKao Talk app to collect the fee for February, the driver claimed his Venmo account was locked and asked to pay in cash, Choi wrote.
Cho changed the meeting location three times, asking at one point, “U called cops?” before finally telling the driver to give the cash to an intermediary at Sixth Street and Ardmore Avenue.
Agents saw the driver hand cash to the intermediary, who wasn’t identified in the affidavit. That person then sent the money to Cho through Venmo, the agent wrote.
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