GOP Fund-Raiser Faces Trial

Monday, July 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Yung Soo Yoo once was valued by the Republican Party as a fund-raiser in Korean-American communities in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere.

The wealthy New Jersey businessman had ties to politicians including former senators Alfonse D'Amato and Bob Dole, and New York Gov. George Pataki. He was even a guest at a 1991 state dinner at the White House for visiting Korean officials.

But the enigmatic man who once described himself as a spy also had a conviction on bank fraud. And on Monday, jury selection started for Yoo's trial on federal charges of campaign corruption and obstruction of justice.

Yoo, 63, of Glen Ridge, N.J., has denied the latest charges, which carry a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

The case stems from an investigation into whether the Korean parents of three violent felons made $36,000 in contributions to Pataki's campaign for governor in the mid-1990s on the promise their children would be paroled.

The deals allegedly were brokered by Yoo and a top Pataki campaign aide, Patrick Donohue. Although not indicted, Donohue has been identified as a target of the investigation; his attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

The U.S. attorney's office has said there is no evidence Pataki, D'Amato or Dole was aware of any illegal activity.

One of the three cases involved Asian gang member John Kim, who was convicted in a string of robberies. Authorities say it was no coincidence Kim was paroled after his parents arranged more than $2,000 in donations to ``Friends of Pataki.''

Federal authorities targeted Yoo after one Korean man complained to police in 1997 that Yoo and Donohue failed to deliver on their guarantee to free his son for $20,000 in donations.

Prosecutors also have accused Yoo of trying to funnel $40,000 from a South Korean yogurt company into the campaign coffers of D'Amato and Dole in 1996. The scheme involved creating phantom donors to bypass campaign laws.

In a court appearance Friday, Yoo for the first time implied the governor knew firsthand what he was up to. He also tried, with no success, to get the court's permission to replace his attorney, Nicholas DeFeis, because DeFeis refused to call Pataki as a witness; DeFeis refused comment on Yoo's request.

A Pataki spokesman, Michael McKeon, called Yoo's comments ``a last-minute desperate act by a very desperate man.''

No one close to Pataki has been charged.

However, three parole officials have been charged with or convicted of lying to authorities investigating allegations of influence peddling, and some of the governor's top aides have been called to testify before a grand jury. One of the officials claimed in a guilty plea that he had been ``instructed to communicate the interest of the governor's office in the release of (Kim)'' to parole board members who ordered the inmate's release over the objections of prosecutors.

According to news accounts, Yoo left South Korea in 1962 for the United States, where he launched several business ventures, the latest an optical lens company.

In 1977, Yoo testified before Congress that he had worked for a Korean intelligence agency as it tried to hush witnesses in a bribery scandal. Seven years later, he was found guilty in Philadelphia of forging documents in a $4 million bank fraud case and sentenced to probation.

Despite that background, Yoo gained access to the GOP's inner circle by raising money — and giving his own. Yoo and his wife reportedly made 45 contributions totaling $93,440 to state and federal campaigns between 1988 and 1996.