A man in Georgia has been accused of amassing over $300,000 by defrauding elderly Koreans via a pyramid scheme.
Targeting church members: On Wednesday, 61-year-old John Kim faced outraged victims and their families when he appeared in court for his trial on five counts of felony theft.
According to Gwinnett County Police, Kim has been targeting victims within church communities in Atlanta, Maryland, New York and other locations since 2020.
Pyramid scam: Kim allegedly operated a form of Ponzi scheme in which he lured victims with promises of unrealistic returns from imaginary investments in an online exchange called Club Mega Planet. He met potential victims at the Embassy Suites in Duluth to collect their money.
According to the victims, Kim initially returned investors’ money and provided additional points on the CMP website for referrals to attract more victims. When the website shut down in June 2021, the victims were suddenly unable to retrieve their funds.
Smooth talker: Sahng Min Han, the son-in-law of one of the victims, testified that Kim used his persuasive nature to take $10,000 from his mother-in-law.
“Once they invest money in him, they can also introduce another friend to him,” Han said. “That’s why it spread out very fast. He used that trick, ‘OK, I’m doing this for God, so if we make a lot of money, we can help a lot of people’ and blah, blah, blah.”
According to Officer B.J. Kerby, who testified in court on Wednesday, Kim spent the money on personal expenses, with no evidence of funds being returned to investors.
“I saw payments going to hotels, rental cars, travel airlines,” the officer said.
Victims’ task force: The John Kim Financial Pyramid Scheme Victims of America Task Force, composed of alleged victims of Kim’s pyramid scheme, placed advertisements in local Korean-language newspapers to seek out other victims.
According to the ads, Kim “directly or indirectly operated the website of an obscure company whose existence has not been definitively established, and presented it as a stable financial company.”
“The company clearly targeted retirees and self-employed individuals who are not familiar with the internet and computers, promising high dividends and stealing their retirement and seed money,” the ads further read in Korean.
More victims: During the trial, a police officer noted that since many of the victims chose not to pursue their cases, the actual number of victims may reach as high as 26 individuals. However, the victims’ task force claims that there were over 100 victims in Atlanta alone, highlighting the far-reaching impact of the alleged pyramid scheme.
The victims’ families expressed disappointment after a judge granted Kim a $10,000 bond despite prosecutors’ concerns about him being a flight risk.