Scammer Posing as a NYC Social Worker Sentenced to Prison


The president of the Korean Social Service Center in New York, who posed as a social worker and made false promises of low-income housing, pleaded guilty in a prison plea yesterday, according to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (pictured above).

Ock Chul Ha, 58, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, will serve 1 to 3 years in state prison. The Korean Social Service Center, a not-for-profit organization, will also be closed down. The victims have received restitution judgments in their favor, as well.

Ha was arrested in May after an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Department of Tax and Finance revealed that over the course of three years, he had fraudulently taken approximately $780,000 from 42 people, primarily elderly Korean Americans. Most came to him for advice regarding Medicare or Social security, and he falsely promised them placement in low-income housing in New York’s 421(a) program.

“At a time when more New Yorkers than ever are struggling with the cost of housing, Mr. Ha dangled the promise of an affordable home to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, ruining lives in the process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Exploiting insecurity and vulnerability – especially in one’s own community – is despicable, and hopefully this conviction can bring some measure of justice to the victims of Ha’s scheme. This conviction also ensures that Mr. Ha will never again use his social service center as a tool for fraud and deception.”

The attorney general’s felony complaint alleged that Ha “preyed on vulnerable people, who he believed would be least likely to notify law enforcement of his scam,” which included the elderly, widows, immigrants and the disabled, most of whom spoke little English. He would gain their trust using his position as a social worker, then offer the clients an opportunity to obtain housing in New York.

Ha would repeatedly call his victims after the initial proposition and warn them that they would lose their chance of getting an apartment if they did not act quickly. Oftentimes, the attorney general noted, Ha would initially demand $28,500, which led many of his victims to empty bank accounts or borrow from friends or family. Some time later, he would ask for more money for “security deposits” equaling six months of rent and provide his victims with a receipt from the Korean Social Service Center.

The investigation found that Ha did not report any income generated in New York State during the past five years. When a search warrant was issued on March 18, 2014, investigators found that Ha had called his victims to urge them not to cooperate with law enforcement and brought up the prospect of reimbursement as a reward. Despite the promises, several victims reportedly ended up cooperating with law enforcement.

Two of his victims include an electrician, who lost his entire life savings to Ha, and an artist who borrowed money from relatives.

After initially pleading not guilty at his arraignment in May, Ha pleaded yesterday to one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, and Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree. The individuals who assisted Ha are also under investigation as well.

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