Former dance school controller pleads guilty to $ 1.5 million fraud

A Maryland woman who wagered nearly $ 1.5 million in funds at the elite dance school where she was a comptroller pleaded guilty to fraud in U.S. District Court in Washington on Thursday.

The plea represents the second time in eight years that the woman, Sophia Kim, has been successfully prosecuted on charges relating to the theft of dance organizations linked to the Unification Church.

Ms. Kim, 60, was hired in 2017 to lead the Kirov Academy of Ballet, a school founded in 1990 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon to promote what he called “the heavenly art of dance” and be a creative outlet. for her daughter-in-law, a former member of the Washington Ballet.

At its peak in the early 2000s, the school hosted nearly a dozen great ballet dancers each year, some of whom were now directors of the American Ballet Theater, the National Ballet of Canada, and other dance companies. foreground.

According to an affidavit from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ms. Kim played with funds she oversaw as the academy’s controller. Over nine months in 2018, investigators said, Ms Kim wrote checks to herself and used her academy bank card 120 times to withdraw cash and pay losses at the MGM Grand Casino near her home in Temple Hills, Maryland.

When the school discovered the missing funds, she reported Ms. Kim to the FBI and she was arrested at the casino in November 2019.

“Kim has treated his business funds like his own personal bank account,” Timothy Thibault, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division, said in a statement announcing the guilty plea.

Last year, Ms Kim said in an interview that she never intended for her gambling to harm the academy.

Ms. Kim joined the Unification Church as a teenager in South Korea, immigrated to the United States, and married a Church lawyer. They settled in northern Virginia, and after raising three children, Ms. Kim was hired as an accountant in Kirov. She then joined the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation, a church-affiliated nonprofit group that funneled money to Kirov and other organizations.

In 2013, Ms Kim, also known as Sookyeong Kim Sebold, was convicted of embezzling the foundation’s money, most of which was lost in New Jersey casinos. She served two years in prison. Upon her release, Ms. Kim was hired as the academy’s controller, a decision the school has not discussed. Academy officials did not respond to a request for comment on Ms Kim’s plea on Friday.

Now a music school and dance academy, the Kirov is based in a former monastery near the Catholic University of Washington.

Acting US District Attorney Channing D. Phillips said, “We have no tolerance for the criminals who loot the coffers of the businesses and institutions that make our district a great place.

The fraud charge carries a legal sentence of up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 3 million. Ms. Kim’s sentencing is slated for September.

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