King County prosecutors say a truck driver bilked three elderly women out of more than $400,000 by persuading them to help him start a painting and construction business.
U Hyon Yi, 49, of Lynnwood, is charged with seven counts of first-degree theft and two counts of second-degree theft. Yi pleaded not guilty Thursday.
If convicted, he could face about three to five years in prison.
According to an affidavit of probable cause outlining the police case, Bellevue police said Yi befriended the three women by doing odd jobs for them. Once Yi gained their trust, police wrote in the affidavit, he persuaded the women to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in his new construction business.
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According to the Washington state departments of revenue, and labor and industries, there was no evidence Yi owned or operated a business, police said. There also was no evidence that Yi had applied for a business application.
The women, from Bellevue and Kirkland, reported that they lent Yi money from 2007 to 2011, according to the affidavit.
Bellevue police first learned about the scam in April 2012, when the executor of the estate of one of the women called Kirkland police to say she was suspicious about large amounts of money that had gone to Yi.
The woman, who died of kidney disease, gave the suspect about $190,000 or more, according to the court documents.
She also introduced Yi to the two other women.
In December 2012, Bellevue police responded to a call from another of the women, who said she was depressed, stressed and suicidal because she had invested more than $100,000 into Yi’s construction business, according to the court documents.
Because of this bad investment, police said she told them she worried she would lose her condominium. Police later learned about the third woman, who they say had given the suspect about $108,000.
Police said Yi told the women they would receive a large return if they invested in his business.
Yi told them he could not pay them back, according to the police affidavit, because the IRS had frozen his account. Instead, he would write out “I owe you” notes explaining he would pay them back once he got access to his bank account, according to the affidavit. Police said Yi never paid anyone back.
Bellevue police spokeswoman Carla Iafrate said if anyone knows of someone who may have given money to Yi, please call their local police department, or the Bellevue police at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iafrate warns people to never give personal information over the phone and not to wire money to someone’s personal bank account.
Iafrate said if someone says they are with a bank or a business, ask them to provide detailed information such as a phone number, address or business card. If they cannot provide this information that person is most likely a scam artist, she said.
“If it’s too good to be true, then it is,” Iafrate said.
Zahra Farah: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com.