Massage parlor owner's bail set

He is accused of trying to bribe inspector, police

March 02, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A Howard Circuit judge granted bail yesterday to the owner of an Elkridge massage parlor accused of trying to bribe a state inspector and two Howard police officers in an effort to strong-arm his competitors out of business.

Sung Yul Kim, 65, of Fort Lee, N.J., had been held in the Howard County Detention Center without bail since his arrest Thursday on three separate charges of attempted bribery in what authorities said was the culmination of a 14-month investigation.

Despite arguments by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough that keeping Kim, a frequent international traveler with about $5 million in assets, in jail is the only way to make sure he shows for trial, Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said it was "not appropriate to the entire situation."

The judge set Kim's bail at $100,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport. Sweeney also told Kim not to leave New Jersey, except to travel to Maryland for court.

Kim, who is married and has children, remained at the detention center yesterday evening.

"He is a U.S. citizen and has the rights that ought to be afforded a U.S. citizen," Kim's attorney, James P. Ulwick, said during yesterday's bail hearing.

But McDonough said Kim's local ties are "slim" and that his American Express Card shows travel to Libya, which was barred for U.S. citizens until recently. During the investigation, Kim told the officers that he is a former member of the Korean CIA, the prosecutor said.

McDonough also pointed to a financial statement that was seized during a search of Kim's business. According to the statement, Kim has more than $1 million in cash in the bank and "in hand," and about $3 million in real estate in his native Korea.

The charges, while misdemeanors, came out of a serious case, McDonough said. State sentencing guidelines would recommend from probation to three years in jail if Kim is convicted, the prosecutor said.

"This is not a speeding ticket where somebody hands a cop $20," he said.

Authorities say that Kim, who operates the Oriental Spa in the 6300 block of Washington Blvd., first tried to recruit Paul Murphy, a state inspector for the Maryland Chiropractic Board, which regulates massage parlors, for a scheme to pressure competitors, through frequent inspections and the like, into selling their businesses to Kim at low prices.

When Murphy told the Office of the State Prosecutor about the incident in November 2002, two Howard police officers, Lt. Keith Lessner and Detective Guy Williams, were brought in to act as Murphy's accomplices, authorities said.

Officials said that Kim gave the men jewelry, cash, liquor and meals during the investigation. McDonough said yesterday that Kim offered Lessner $10,000 a month to pressure competing massage parlors.

Kim was arrested Thursday at a Dorsey motel, two weeks after a Howard grand jury returned a sealed indictment in the case. During a search of his business, three women working at the parlor were also arrested on immigration violations, authorities said.

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