Couple Sentenced to Lengthy Prison Terms for $12.7 Million Affinity Investment Fraud
Defendants Preyed on Faith Communities to Fund Lavish Lifestyle
SUNG HONG, 47, and HYUN JOO HONG, 42, of Clyde Hill, Washington were sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to lengthy prison terms for defrauding more than 55 clients out of $12.7 million, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. SUNG HONG, aka LAURENCE HONG or LAWRENCE HONG, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. His wife, HYUN JOO HONG, aka GRACE HONG, was sentenced to six years in prison. From 2010 until their arrest in June 2017, the couple held themselves out as experienced investment advisors with a track record of performance in order to solicit investor funds for their hedge fund, Pishon Holdings, and for management through separately managed accounts. In fact, SUNG HONG had just completed a 33 month sentence for committing investment fraud when he launched this new scheme in 2010. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly said, “This scheme was a serious, complex fraud over seven years. You targeted religious victims. You used God as a way to gain trust…. You have emotionally and spiritually damaged these victims and most of them will never recover.”
“Using faith and fraud, this couple stole millions from people whose dreams of a better life have now been shattered,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “Both repeatedly lied to their investors, all while spending their hard earned money on high-end shopping sprees, luxurious vacations, a yacht and an expensive rental home. Their victims now live paycheck to paycheck with college and retirement funds depleted and a very different financial future than they expected.”
According to records filed in the case, the HONGs recruited investors using religious organizations and shared religious beliefs. The couple claimed that LAURENCE HONG privately invested billions of dollars for wealthy Korean families and that GRACE HONG held a Series 65 securities license and previously worked for a large international investment firm. None of these statements were true. Likewise, the defendants did not disclose LAURENCE HONG’s past criminal conviction for investment fraud. The couple sent potential investors misleading and false investment prospectuses that contained an inaccurate record of their past investment performance and other plagiarized investment outlooks.
Throughout their fraudulent scheme, the HONGs used stolen investor funds for their own benefit, including payments for a 9,000 square foot rental home in Clyde Hill; a 45-foot yacht; multiple high-end vehicles, such as BMWs, a Maserati, an Aston Martin, and a Lamborghini; and numerous expensive vacations to locations such as the Bahamas and Beverly Hills.
One church in California invested $1 million with the HONGs and lost about $300,000 on a single trade. Still, despite the steep losses and a fee arrangement based on investment gains, the HONGs withdrew almost $150,000, ostensibly as advisor fees, from the church’s account. Another couple allowed the HONGs to manage their $180,000 in retirement funds only to lose $100,000 within less than a year. After meeting with the HONGs, that couple then invested their remaining retirement funds in the HONGs’ hedge fund, only for those funds to be redirected into GRACE HONG’s personal account. The HONGs used those funds to pay credit card bills and other personal expenses, including a $16,000 payment to a resort in the Bahamas for a HONG family vacation.
Speaking to LAWRENCE HONG, Judge Zilly noted his prior conviction for a similar fraud: “You clearly did not learn anything from the fact you were convicted and sentenced to prison…. You are one of those con men who will never be able to stop conning people.” Judge Zilly noted that GRACE HONG played “an intricate and important role in the entire scheme. She misrepresented her credentials… she took God’s name – she used that to entice investors to put money in their pockets.”
Judge Zilly ordered the pair to pay more than $12.7 million in restitution. The losses for certain investors represented their entire life or retirement savings.
The case was investigated by the FBI. The United States Attorney’s Office thanks the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for its assistance in the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin Arnold and Steven Masada.