An ex-Los Angeles-based immigration agent pleaded guilty Friday to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from a man who had been accused of trafficking a woman into the United States to be a sex slave.

Logo for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Courtesy United States Department of Homeland Security via Wikimedia Commons.
Joohoon David Lee, 43, formerly of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery before U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald.

Lee’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment placed after regular business hours.

“Corrupt officials who abuse their positions of power to line their pockets compromise our entire system of government,” said Eileen Decker, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. “In this case, a federal law enforcement officer thwarted justice in exchange for just a few thousand dollars and hindered the ability of a possible trafficking victim to seek justice.”

According to the plea agreement, Lee — who was assigned to HSI’s human trafficking unit in Los Angeles — in March 2012 interviewed a woman who claimed that she was entering the United States to be a slave for a Korean businessman identified in court papers as H.S.

About a year later, according to the plea agreement, Lee met with an attorney representing H.S. and told the lawyer that Lee could fly to Korea, interview H.S. and submit a favorable report — if H.S. would finance the trip.

H.S. agreed, and Lee accepted $3,000 in cash, prosecutors said.

About 10 days after receiving the money, Lee traveled to Seoul, where H.S. paid for Lee’s hotel and entertainment expenses, federal prosecutors said.

While in Korea, Lee asked for “a large sum of money,” according to the plea agreement, in which Lee admits accepting between $6,000 and $7,000.

Upon returning to the United States, Lee prepared a report related to the investigation of H.S. that read: “Subject was suspected of human trafficking. No evidence found and victim statement contradicts. Case closed. No further action required,” court papers show.

“There will be zero tolerance for public officials who abuse their authority and violate the public’s trust,” said Joe Jeronimo, special agent in charge for ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility. “Guarding against illegal or unethical behavior by those in positions of public trust is not an option — it is an obligation we have to the people we serve.”

Lee, who now lives in Las Vegas, is scheduled to be sentenced May 23. He’s facing up to 15 years in federal prison, prosecutors said.

— City News Service

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