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Post date: November 24 2014

A.G. Schneiderman Announces 1-3 Years Prison Plea Agreement By President Of Korean Social Service Center For Theft Of Over $200,000 From Immigrants Seeking Affordable Housing

Ock Chul Ha Posed As A Social Worker, Made False Promises Of Low-Income Housing In Exchange For Thousands Of Dollars In Fees And Took A Plea Of 1-3 Years State Prison And Closure Of His Social Service Center

Schneiderman: Fraudsters Who Take Advantage Of Vulnerable Citizens Must Be Prosecuted To The Fullest Extent Of The Law

NEW YORK - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the plea of Ock Chul Ha, President of the Korean Social Service Center, a not-for-profit organization, for operating a pervasive scam on primarily elderly Korean-Americans for more than three years. Ha allegedly falsely promised clients – who came to him for advice regarding Medicare or Social Security – placement in low-income housing in the city’s coveted 421(a) program. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Ha will serve 1-3 years in state prison, the Korean Social Service Center will be shuttered, and victims who cooperated with the investigation have received restitution judgments in their favor.

Ha pleaded guilty to one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a Class "C" felony), one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a Class "E" felony), and Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree (a Class "D" felony).

“At a time when more New Yorkers than ever are struggling with the cost of housing, Mr. Ha dangled the promise of an affordable home to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, ruining lives in the process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Exploiting insecurity and vulnerability – especially in one’s own community – is despicable, and hopefully this conviction can bring some measure of justice to the victims of Ha’s scheme.  This conviction also ensures that Mr. Ha will never again use his social service center as a tool for fraud and deception.”

According to Ha’s fully allocated plea, Ha was the President of Korean Social Services, a Manhattan not-for-profit located at 16 West 32nd Street, Suite 301. Based on our investigation, Ha preyed on vulnerable people, who he believed would be least likely to notify law enforcement of his scam.  He generally conned elderly Korean-American immigrants, widows and those on disability who spoke limited English. He admitted to scamming an electrician, who lost his entire life savings to Ha and an artist who borrowed money from relatives. He would gain their trust by relying on his position as a social worker, and then offer them an opportunity to obtain a precious commodity in New York: affordable housing.

The investigation found that after Ha propositioned his victims, he would call them repeatedly, warning them that they would lose their chance at a 421(a) apartment if they did not act quickly. Often he would demand $28,500 from his victims. Most of his victims drained their bank accounts, borrowed from friends or pooled money from relatives to pay Ha. Ha would then demand more money from his victims, often citing the need for security deposits equaling six months of rent. He would provide his victims with a receipt from the Korean Social Service Center that reflected the total amount provided by his victim (often in the tens of thousands of dollars), the victim’s name, and a note indicating that these monies were for a deposit on a “N.Y.C H.D.” apartment.  Ha admitted to stealing approximately $207,000 from such victims.

The investigation further revealed that after a March 18, 2014, search warrant was executed at Ha’s office, he began calling his victims and urging them not to cooperate with law enforcement. Ha dangled the prospect of reimbursement as a reward for their refusal to cooperate.  Despite such empty promises, several brave men and women cooperated with law enforcement to bring Ha to justice.

Ha, 58, of Fort Lee, NJ, pleaded guilty before Judge Larry Stevens and will be sentenced to 1-3 years in state prison on March 3, 2015.

This investigation, initiated by the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, was a joint collaboration between the Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Department of Tax and Finance. The Attorney General thanks the New York City Department of Investigation for its cooperation on this case.

The investigation was initiated by Assistant Attorney General Michael Torrisi of the Charities Bureau and handled by Investigator Edward Ortiz and Chief Dominick Zarrella of the Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau, and Michael Yun formerly of the NYS Department of Tax and Finance. This case was prosecuted by Special Counsel John R. Spagna, Chief Auditor of the Forensic Audit Section, Edward J. Keegan, Senior Analyst Jacqui Brown, and Associate Forensic Auditor Matthew Crogan, in the Attorney General’s Criminal Division, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.