LOS ANGELES – A former manager at a U.S.-based automobile manufacturing company was taken into custody this morning after being indicted this week on a federal bribery charge alleging he solicited a $5 million bribe from a South Korean company with promises of delivering a large contract for various car parts.
Hyoung Nam So, 46, of Irvine, who was also known as Brian So, surrendered this morning to federal authorities after a federal grand jury on Wednesday charged him in a bribery conspiracy. So is expected to be arraigned on the one-count indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
The indictment alleges that the foreign parts supplier paid So a total of $3.45 million in cash. Homeland Security Investigations seized $3.19 million believed to be proceeds from the bribery scheme from a private vault in Los Altos, California in 2017, and HSI subsequently returned the money to South Korean authorities.
As a manager and team leader at the Michigan-based car manufacturer – referred to as “Company A” in the indictment – So oversaw the supply of parts used to build interiors for Company A automobiles in North America. In October 2015, the indictment alleges, So promised a contract to the owner of the South Korean parts company – “Company B” – in exchange for $5 million, which So demanded in cash. The following month, the owner of Company B arranged to have $1 million in cash transferred to the United States through money brokers, which an accomplice then drove from Los Angeles to Michigan, according to the indictment. The owner of Company B allegedly flew to the United States in late November 2015 and personally delivered the cash to So in a meeting at a hotel in Troy, Michigan.
By the time the $1 million payment was made, So had learned that Company B was not the lowest bidder on the contract, and he arranged for information to be provided to Company B so it could revise its bid on the contract, according to the indictment. On December 8, 2015, So recommended to Company A executives that the contract be awarded to Company B, and the contract was awarded to Company B on the same day.
“So refrained from notifying Company B of the contract award, and continued to withhold the information until [Company B’s owner] paid the remaining portion of the bribe,” the indictment states. On December 20, 2015, the owner of Company B allegedly paid So another portion of the bribe at a restaurant in Detroit – $2.45 million that also had been driven from Los Angeles to Michigan. The following day, So arranged for Company B to be told it had won the contract.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The indictment charges So with one count of conspiracy to commit federal funds bribery, a charge related to the fact that Company A received money through federal assistance programs. This offense carries a maximum statutory penalty of five years in federal prison.
The owner of Company B was prosecuted for offenses related to the bribery scheme in South Korea. The investigation into the bribery scheme was conducted by HSI’s Los Angeles El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force, a multi-agency task force comprised of federal and state investigators who are focused on financial crimes in Southern California. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance during the investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Jeff Mitchell of the Major Frauds Section is prosecuting this case.