Defendant in home invasion case seeks to withdraw guilty plea


A California man charged in a botched home invasion in the Las Vegas Korean community is trying to withdraw his guilty plea in the case.

Korean-born Choon Bok Lee, 56, pleaded guilty in September to two federal racketeering charges stemming from the home invasion and agreed to a 10-year sentence behind bars.

But in October, he filed a three-page handwritten petition seeking to dismiss his assistant federal public defender, Shari Kaufman, and withdraw his plea.

Lee, who is in federal custody, argued that Kaufman "coerced" him into signing a plea agreement he didn't understand. He charged his lawyer consistently refused to provide him with an "effective" interpreter to explain the deal to him.

Prosecutors defended Kaufman in their response, arguing Lee's guilty plea was based on "meaningful consultation with competent counsel."

On Thursday, however, after a closed-door hearing with a new Korean interpreter, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said she was removing Kaufman from the case and appointing a new lawyer for Lee. Navarro set a Dec. 15 hearing to decide whether to allow Lee to withdraw his guilty plea.

Afterward, Kaufman declined comment.

Lee, who is to be sentenced March 20, and two other men, Ki Chong Yoo and Hyo Seong Kim, were charged in a six-count superseding indictment in February in a case handled by Nevada federal prosecutors who specialize in organized crime. Yoo is awaiting trial, and Kim is still at large.

According to court documents, the three men, looking for cash hidden in a safe, showed up in December 2009 at the Las Vegas home of a couple who own a Korean restaurant.

A nanny let them inside, and they waited for the wife to come home. When she arrived, the intruders grabbed her, put a pillowcase over her head and ordered her to give them the code to the safe, the documents allege.

The woman told the suspects she didn't know the code, and she was ordered to persuade her husband to come home. When the husband arrived, the men struck him in the back of the head with a flashlight and then used a stun gun on him, the documents allege.

In the confusion, the documents allege, the wife slipped out of the house and called police at a neighbor's home. When the intruders learned that the woman had escaped, they fled in a Volvo with California license plates.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

 

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