It sounds like a crime straight out of the movie Catch Me if You Can.
In the film the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio is a scam artist who dresses as a pilot and prints fake PanAm checks that he cashes. In a Koreatown-based racket revealed by federal authorities today, fake checks were deposited in accounts from which money was withdrawn, the U.S. Attorney's Office in L.A. alleges.
And it was worth $15 million, feds say:
Twelve suspects were arrested this morning and three others are on the loose, the U.S. Attorney's Office says.
Prosecutors call the racket at “bustout” scheme in which people with bank accounts were allegedly recruited via Korean-language newspapers.
Those folks allegedly agreed to have their accounts used for a fee knowing that once the fake checks – in amounts from $2,300 to $28,000 – were deposited, cash was withdrawn, and the documents were discovered as fake the accounts would be closed, feds say.
The name of the scheme in Korean-English is “check kkang,” and so the FBI called this “Operation Check Kkang.” According to a U.S. Attorney's statement:
… A 26-count indictment … describes a bustout scheme in which the members of the conspiracy deposited bogus checks and immediately withdrew funds from the account. Once the financial institution realized that the check is fraudulent and dishonored the deposit, the account was “busted.”
Victims were said to include Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo Bank. The racket lasted from February 2010 to October, feds say.
Indictees were named as:
Jae Ho Chung, 44, of Los Angeles (Westwood);
Michael Yeon Cho, 30, of Pacific Palisades;
Roger Lee, 48, of Cerritos;
Kun Young Lee, 51, of Los Angeles (Koreatown);
Jeong Gu Kim, 53, of Los Angeles;
Hak Soo Shim, 40, of Newport Beach;
Renling “Mark Ling” Chao, 50, of Los Angeles (Brentwood);
Il Hwan Jae, 60, of Los Angeles (Koreatown);
Erick Palafox, 28, of ; of Lynwood
Jae Kwon An, 42, of Riverside;
Joonie Yeon Cho, 42, of Los Angeles (Koreatown);
Eun Ah Kim, aka Eun Ae Kim, 39, of Los Angeles;
Hye Ran Lee, 30, of Irvine;
Hee Jung Lee, 41, of Riverside; and
Woo Chang Lim, 36, of Ventura.
Fugitives in the case, according to prosecutors, are: Jae Ho Chung, Roger Lee, and Hye Ran Lee. The others in custody were expected to be arraigned in federal courts in L.A., Riverside and Santa Ana today.
The main charge for all involved here is conspiracy to commit bank fraud, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. The maximum penalty would be 60 years in federal prison.