Fundraising scammers are more common than you think - This couple milked donors for $800,000 in Japanese tsunami relief fund

Saturday, August 18, 2012 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: fundraising, scams, relief funds

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(NaturalNews) A lawsuit has been filed in the New York County Supreme Court, alleging that a married couple set up a fake relief fund for survivors of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and used it to scam donors out of more than $800,000.

According to the complaint, married Manhattan residents Gahee An and Changtae Seo cheated donors including Yoon Jung Kim of New Jersey and her daughter, Hae Won Bang. An told Kim that her husband Seo was a wealthy son of a Korean congressman, and that she was the granddaughter of the head of Korea's SBS Broadcasting Group. An also claimed to be friends with a number of celebrities and to possess substantial wealth in real estate, including a $9 million building on Park Ave, and a penthouse in Soho.

An allegedly claimed to be a marketer for the textile company SG International, as well as a representative of the Asia Culture Exchange Organization (ACEO). Through the ACEO, An claimed, she had direct access to international business leaders, U.S. President Barrack Obama, and the Japanese imperial family.

An elaborate hoax

According to the plaintiffs; however, both SG International and ACEO were front groups designed to scam money from donors.

"Following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, An told Kim that ACEO had established a Japan disaster relief fund which An said was tax exempt," the complaint reads. "An solicited donations ... from Kim and others. An told Kim that the donation would be forwarded directly to the relief headquarters in Japan."

Kim was told that she was ACEO's "favorite donor," and that her business, Olympiad School, could also benefit from donating to the fund. An promised Olympiad students internships at prominent businesses and organizations, as well as attention from Ivy League schools.

Between them, Kim and Olympiad Schools donated $220,000 to ACEO, the complaint states.

An also persuaded Kim to form two limited-liability corporations (LLCs), SCTA and SSOA, to participate in ACEO's investment arm. She also told Bang that if she founded her own company, she could qualify for an E-2 Visa. Based upon this advice, Bang formed the company OA Consulting.

An E-2 Visa, also known as an Investor Visa, allows foreigners who control significant investments in the United States to remain in the country to manage those investments.

Kim invested $405,000 into SCTA and SSOA, and Bang invested $248,000 into OA Consulting. Weeks later, the women discovered that An and her husband had withdrawn nearly that entire amount. In January 2012, An and Seo spent $1.26 million on a Manhattan high-rise condo.

An, Seo, ACEO and SG International are now being sued by Kim, Bang, Olympiad School, SCTA, SSOA and OA Consulting. The plaintiffs are alleging 14 violations including fraud, conversion and unjust enrichment. They are seeking more than $3.9 million in punitive damages.

Beware - Scammers abound

Such scams are more common than many people think, especially when you include supposedly "legitimate" organizations that nevertheless raise funds on false pretenses. A textbook case is Susan G. Komen, parent organization of Race for the Cure and the pink breast cancer ribbon. Although this organization raises more than $300 million per year, critics have alleged that nearly all of that money goes to sponsoring research by Big Pharma and promoting risky procedures like mammograms (which may actually increase the risk of breast cancer).

The organization does practically nothing to promote evidence-based breast cancer prevention measures, instead partnering with companies that slap pink ribbons on carcinogen-laden foods such as alcohol and KFC chicken. It continues to deny, against a mounting body of evidence, that the plastics chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) causes cancer.

So before you write that check, do your research. Are you really supporting the cause you think you are?

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