A former Los Angeles-based immigration agent was sentenced Tuesday to 10 months behind bars for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from a trafficking suspect accused of bringing a woman into the United States to be a sex slave.
Joohoon David Lee, 43, formerly of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, pleaded guilty in December to one count of bribery before U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald.
The judge said that despite Lee’s “meritorious” service to the government prior to the offense, a prison sentence was justified because of the “very, very grave” nature of the crime.
The series of events began in March 2012 when Lee — who was assigned to HSI’s human trafficking unit in Los Angeles — 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, Lee told an attorney representing the businessman that he would fly to Korea, interview the attorney’s client and submit a favorable report — if “H.S.” would finance the trip. The man 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 the agent’s hotel and entertainment expenses.
While in Korea, Lee asked for “a large sum of money” and accepted between $6,000 and $7,000, according to his plea agreement.
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.”
“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, was also ordered to serve two years of supervised release, including mental health treatment, when he is released from prison.
Fitzgerald allowed Lee to self-surrender to start his sentence on Sept. 23.
—City News Service