38-year-old Euirang "Chris" Hwang was sentenced this week in federal court to 6 1/2 years in prison for operating an Irvine investment business that was actually a front for a Ponzi scheme targeting Korean Americans.
After Hwang pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges connected with the investment scheme that collected about $8.5 million from 65 victims throughout the state, U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana also ordered the scammer to pony up $7,003,654.00 in restitution.
Hwang has been incarcerated since he was arrested at a Corona home in March 2010 by the FBI. So has his wife, Sang Yi, who pleaded guilty in January to similar wire fraud counts. She is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
Her husband, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is the founder and chairman of Irvine-based investment firm Pinupito, which included Yi, a South Korean citizen, as its president, secretary and controller of the finances.
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The couple promised investors--some of whom were solicited at Korean-language churches-- annual returns of up to 45 percent by falsely claiming Pinupito was buying smaller companies in Korea and then selling them for large profits.
Hwang was portrayed as a billionaire with vast holdings in his native Korea. He wasn't, but he could have been if investors kept pumping him the money he and his wife used for luxury car leases, personal expenses and returns to existing investors.
After an investigation by the FBI, Hwang and Yi were charged with four counts of wire fraud in an indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on Feb. 3, 2010. Bureau agents arrested the couple on March 9, 2010. They were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney.
Victims stung by the couple shared their sad tales with the judge at sentencing.