A man who embezzled more than $700,000 from a charity organization to support a “lavish lifestyle” was sentenced to 12 months behind bars on June 30.
In Loudoun County Circuit Judge Thomas Horne’s courtroom — a room where the tension could be cut with a blunt knife and each person’s face displayed more story lines than an episode of “Lost” — Eun Tae Lee stared at the clock, reading 9:52 a.m., and removed his thick glasses, massaging his eyes and releasing a sigh after nearly an hour of silence while a triangle of litigators deliberated his fate.
Lee, who acted as the chief administrative officer for Sterling-based missionary company Seed International, embezzled more than $700,000 from the group — sponsored by the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Vienna and funded by Korean churches worldwide.
When Lee was giving a chance to speak, he read a prepared statement, pausing many times to compose himself as he fought tears.
“I have deep regret for what I’ve done to [Seed International] and my family,” Lee said. “It was not like myself — I will pay back this debt.”
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said in April 2010 that Lee had gained control of Seed International’s bank account and wrote checks to accounts he set up in his own name.
“I lost all trust in him,” Won Sang Lee, president of Seed International, said immediately after the sentencing. “I have to trust the legal system and I hope this cannot be repeated.”
Wong Sang Lee and Eun Tae Lee are not related.
Lee, clad in a suit, received a 10-year suspended sentence on each count of embezzlement (there were three) to run consecutively and a year in prison, as well as three years of probation. Additionally, he must repay $2,000 a month or 50 percent of his gross income until he repays the money he took — much of which Lee used on a $100,000 vehicle and a second, rented residence.
Won Sang Lee was satisfied with Horne’s ruling, as was Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Sean Morgan.
“Horne sentenced the defendant with what the commonwealth had recommended, so I think it was clear that [he made the right decision],” Morgan said.
Prior to handing down his sentence, Horne launched into a monologue about two embezzlement cases he had ruled on before — with vastly different results.
His first example was of a case nearly 30 years ago in which a person embezzled money to help support their spouse’s terminal cancer treatment.
“In this case, the person embezzled money to give some peace of mind to the person they loved before they died,” Horne said. “That’s probably as close as you can get to [not receiving jail time].”
But Horne had one more story to tell.
“On the flip side, I had a case in which an individual embezzled and took money that was going to children’s activities and education,” Horne said. “Money they earned by selling cookies and doing car washes, she was taking to support her lifestyle.”
Here you have a charity in which Lee took money from people who do good work in the world. This money was used for somebody’s pleasure.”
Horne said he originally believed Lee’s case to be a textbook example that warranted a long-term prison sentence before hearing the case.
Lee’s attorney, Jay Myerson, said he thought that Horne could have been more lenient in this case.
“Judge Horne is a good judge, but this is a different case and I’m disappointed that Lee has received active jail time,” Myerson said. “He has lived a life of good deeds and compassion prior to and after making this unfortunate mistake. I wish he could have remained free to give back to community service and to generate money to help pay back his debts.”
Horne left a last thought with Lee.
“[What you did] will be a difficult burden for you to carry.”
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