Feds: Gang members ‘terrorized’ Korean businesses in Gwinnett

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Feds: Gang members ‘terrorized’ Korean businesses in Gwinnett

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Members of a Gwinnett gang were found guilty of federal extortion charges. The gang’s leader was sentenced Friday to more than a decade in federal prison.

The leader of a violent Gwinnett County gang has been sentenced to more than a decade in federal prison for his role in “terrorizing” Korean-American business owners through extortion, violence and threats, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release.

Eugene Chung, of Duluth, was sentenced Friday to 10 years and six months in prison. He pleaded guilty to two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion in a plea deal in February 2016.

Chung led a gang that “specialized in the violent collection of debts” and trafficked drugs and guns, the DOJ said. Four members of that gang have also been found guilty of federal extortion charges for crimes occurring between 2010 and 2011.

In July 2009, Chung and his associates threatened an owner of a Korean restaurant, saying if he didn’t pay for “protection,” they would physically assault him, harass his customers and damage the restaurant. When the business owner missed a payment in December 2009, Chung, Athith Vorasith and Thomas Jungwon Lee threatened to kill the man if he didn’t pay, the DOJ said. Chung then pointed a gun at the man’s face, threatened to kill him and punched him in the face, knocking him unconscious, according to the release.

“Chung carefully cultivated his reputation for violence, and profited from that reputation by victimizing our Korean-American community,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn in a release. “He bragged that he and his associates were ‘professionals’ at extortion and that harming their victims was one more way to get people to pay. The community is safer now that he and his fellow gang members are off the streets.” 

The business owner began working with the FBI shortly after that assault and continued to make payments to Chung and Jong Sung Kim. An undercover FBI agent posed as a wealthy businessman and relative of the restaurant owner, telling Chung he was interested in buying large amounts of marijuana. Chung told the undercover agent that he “ran a marijuana distribution business and offered a menu of other illegal services as well,” the DOJ said. These services included gambling, extortion and debt collection.

The undercover agent told Chung he was owed $200,000 by a man in Texas. Chung offered to collect the debt, unaware that the Texas man was also an undercover agent, the release said. Chung had told the agent he and his associates were good at “making people crippled” and “permanently limp, blind or deaf,” and suggested he may break the Texas agent’s legs, the release said. 

Chung and the four gang members met the Texas agent at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, threatening to go to the agent’s home if he didn’t pay the supposed debt, the DOJ said. Chung later left threatening voicemails for the Texas agent.

Chung, Lee and Ye El Choi also sold drugs and guns to undercover agents through 2010 and 2011, the DOJ said. Chung and his four associates were indicted by a federal grand jury in 2013 and later convicted on the following charges:

  • Ye El (“David”) Choi, 33, of Norcross, pleaded guilty on Feb. 13, 2015, to one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion in a plea. Choi will be sentenced on June 16.
  • Athith (“Andy”) Vorasith, 36, of Auburn, pleaded guilty on Feb. 4, 2016, to two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion in a plea agreement. Vorasith was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Vorasith was also ordered to pay $8,500 in restitution.
  • Eugene Thomas Chung, 43, of Duluth, pleaded guilty on Feb. 4, 2016, to two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion in a plea agreement. On May 19, Chung was sentenced to 10 years, six months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Chung was also ordered to pay $8,500 in restitution.
  • Thomas Jungwon (“Tommy”) Lee, 36, of Duluth, pleaded guilty on Feb. 16, 2017, to one count of interfering with commerce by extortion in a plea agreement. On May 16, 2017, Lee was sentenced to time already served in custody, one year and 10 months, and three years of supervised release and 160 hours of community service.
  • Jong Sung (“John”) Kim, 52, of Suwanee, was convicted by a jury on March 2, 2017, on two counts of interfering with commerce by extortion. Kim was acquitted on two other extortion counts, including a conspiracy count. Kim will be sentenced on June 5, 2017.

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