Scammers landed retired Florida dad in South Korea jail, son says

A 79-year-old retired Federal Reserve vice president who winters in Jupiter Farms, Florida, has been in a South Korea jail since Nov. 10, charged with fraud, his son said Thursday.

Julius Malinowski is the real victim, set up by people posing as executives of BB&T Bank, said his son, Kent Malinowski, also of Jupiter Farms.

Kent said an American lawyer in Seoul has told the family that neither a bail amount nor a trial date has been set and that their father faces possibly years in prison — but he did get good news Thursday from his father's lawyers.

The alleged fraud involved a South Korean business contact's laying out for Julius the equivalent of $11,663 for first-class air fare from Virginia and the cost of a Seoul hotel room. The lawyers said Thursday the contact had said he'd gotten some credits on the air fare and hotel and that he had signed a release saying he wouldn't pursue criminal and civil charges in exchange for the lawyers paying him the equivalent of $6,308.

The deal doesn't automatically get Julius off the hook, Kent said. He said the lawyers advised that in Korea prosecutors still can press forward on a criminal case and that only a judge can drop all charges.

But, he said, "it goes a long way. So we're hopeful."

Kent said his father has been sleeping on a concrete floor and has inadequate food, which aggravates his chronic kidney problems. He said Julius Malinowski was admitted Monday to a hospital for tests but was out by Thursday.

"His last note passed to family read, 'I'm good, but not healthy,' " Kent wrote this week. He told The Palm Beach Post by phone Thursday that "our attorneys report that Dad looks much better."

"Mal" Malinowski retired from the government in the late 1990s but still does volunteer work. Recently, his son said, he was approached to do part-time work in international transactions from people who presented themselves as officers of North Carolina-based BB&T.

"They paid his round-trip travel expenses and a fee for contract delivery-courier services," Kent Malinowski said. He said the "executives" met his father in advance in Williamsburg, Va., and even bought him a round of golf.

Kent Malinowski said the family didn't know anything about either "Mal's" assignment or his international travel until they learned that he had called a Virginia neighbor from jail. He said the family called the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, which confirmed that their father was under arrest.

Kent said the family was told their father had delivered a contract in Australia without incident in October but was arrested Nov. 10 after he flew from Virginia to South Korea.

The family can't figure out how the bad guys might have benefited. "We don't know what the end game was," Kent said. He speculated his father was an unwitting "front man" who would get the government and business contacts in Australia and South Korea comfortable and pave the way for the scam.

It was only after his arrest that family members got into his computer and found the official-looking exchanges purporting to be from BB&T executives, his son said.

Kent said his father is a victim of an "elaborate" internet scam.

"He was swept up in a criminal enterprise about which he had no knowledge," his son wrote. "They targeted an elderly retiree who was healthy enough to travel, but not tech-savvy enough to spot the bogus email addresses."

Kent Malinowski said police in his father's hometown of Culpeper, Virginia, about 70 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., also have concluded he's a victim.

Culpeper Police Lt. Andrew Terrill would say Thursday only that "there is an active and ongoing investigation."

Kent Malinowski said he's also contacted criminal investigators for both the FBI and the Department of State.

A State Department official confirmed the department was aware of press reports that an American citizen was detained in South Korea, but was unable to comment further because of privacy issues. The official confirmed the department was ready to provide consular assistance.

The FBI would not confirm it is looking into the case. BB&T spokesman Brian Davis referred a reporter to law enforcement.

Calls by The Palm Beach Post to the law firm representing Julius Malinowski in Korea, as well as the South Korean embassy in Washington, D.C, were not returned.