CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Los Angeles man accused of stealing nearly $2 million from Appalachian State University (ASU) was indicted by a federal grand jury in Charlotte Friday.
Ho Shin Lee, 31, is charged with 14 counts of money laundering. The maximum penalty for each charge is 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
According to the District Attorney's Office, around December 2016, a fraudster convinced ASU staff to forward $1.9 million to a company the staff thought had been hired by the college. According to court records, the fraudsters sent ASU emails posing as a legitimate finance technician for Rodgers Builders, the company building ASU's new health sciences facility.
The phony finance technician reportedly sent ASU a new direct deposit form to change Rodgers Builders' previous bank information to a new account at a new bank.
When Rodgers Builders contacted ASU about not receiving their due payment, the ASU employee contacted the company's finance technician and determined he had not sent the email about the change in bank accounts.
That's when the FBI was contacted and the investigation began.
The DA's office says Lee registered a "general merchandise" company - Royce Hub Trading, Inc. - in California on Nov. 18, 2016. On Nov. 23, 2016, Lee opened a bank account for the company in CA, claiming to be the president and sole account holder of Royce Hub Trading.
Investigators believe that was the bank account used on the new direct deposit forms, and that after receiving the money Lee used numerous bank wire transfers to launder the money among various companies.
In January, the DA's office announced that ASU was getting back $1,542,442.33 of the $1,959,925.02 that was stolen.
"Today's announcement is an example of the results we get when we use civil forfeiture laws to swiftly stop crime and provide financial relief to victims of fraud," said U.S. Attorney Murray after the January announcement.
Murray continued, "In this case, the FBI located and seized the stolen funds even before criminal investigative targets had been identified or a criminal case had been filed. Under these circumstances, civil forfeiture is the only area of law that enables law enforcement to swiftly obtain warrants to secure stolen funds, and to prevent the perpetrators of fraud from accessing them. Identifying and seizing ill-gotten gains and returning forfeited funds to victims is a priority for my office. I will use all of the tools at my disposal to make victims whole, and civil asset forfeiture is an invaluable tool in that arsenal."
There is no whether Lee will be brought back to NC to face the charges.