White-Collar Crime

Clients invested $47M in immigration lawyer's ethanol plant hoping to get US green cards, feds say


A California immigration lawyer is facing criminal charges for allegedly operating a scheme in which 94 foreigners invested $47 million to construct a Kansas ethanol plant in the hope of qualifying for a green card allowing them to legally reside in the United States

In addition to the federal wire fraud indictment announced Wednesday against Justin Moongyu Lee, 57, he has also been named as a defendant in a federal civil suit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the Associated Press and the Imperial Valley News.

The SEC accuses the Los Angeles practitioner and his former law partner, Thomas Edward Kent, among other defendants,of participating in a scheme in which investors contributed over $11 million to construct an ethanol plant that was never built, even as the investors were being told that construction was ongoing, Courthouse News reports. Meanwhile, as they waited for the completion of the plant, which was to qualify investors for U.S. residency through a program that provides green cards to investors who create U.S. jobs, the money investors provided for the project was misappropriated, the SEC said in the Los Angeles lawsuit.

Prosecutors in the Santa Ana criminal case contend Lee used investors money to fund a mining project in the Philippines. He is also accused of making false immigration filings.

Federal Bureau of Investigation and SEC press releases provide more details.

It isn’t clear whether Lee, who has been arrested in Korea, has a U.S. lawyer, the AP reports. Attorney Jacob Shahbaz represents Kent. He did not immediately respond to the news agency’s request for comment.

A disciplinary case is pending against Lee and the State Bar of California says he was no longer eligible to practice law as of July because he failed to pay required fees. Another State Bar of California page says Kent was disbarred last month.

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