- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The convicted ringleader of a massive identity fraud operation that caused more than $4 million in losses to banks, credit card companies and other lenders was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday.

Wearing the green prison garb of the Hudson County jail, Sang-Hyun Park sat quietly and listened through an interpreter as U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden handed down his sentence.

Park received 120 months for conspiracy to produce fake ID documents, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. He received a consecutive, 24-month sentence for aggravated identity theft.

Hayden also ordered Park to pay about $4.8 million in restitution. Park will almost surely be deported to his native South Korea when he is released from prison.

“I made wrong choices, and this is how far I came,” Park said in a brief statement through his interpreter. “I will try my best to make my living better.”

Park, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2010, was one of more than 50 people charged in connection with the scam. All but a few have pleaded guilty, the U.S. attorney’s office said; the remaining defendants are negotiating plea deals except for one who is a fugitive.

The 48-year-old, known as “Jimmy,” came to the U.S. in the 1990s and was living in the Korean enclave of Palisades Park, near the George Washington Bridge, when he was arrested. He started a business importing cloth from Central America to use in hats, his attorney, Chris Fleming said, but the business went under when the economy faltered after 9/11.

According to court documents, Park was the mastermind behind a sophisticated organization that bought Social Security cards fraudulently obtained from Asian immigrants working in American territories, including Guam, American Samoa and Saipan, between 2006 and 2010. The ring then resold the cards to Korean immigrants in the territorial U.S. who used them to apply for U.S. driver’s licenses and establish credit card accounts.

The defendants would max out the credit cards, increase their credit limit by paying them off out of bank accounts opened with the fake IDs, and max out the new line of credit before the checks could bounce, according to court documents.

The ring even put advertisements for participants in the scheme in Korean-American newspapers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Moscato told the court Tuesday.

Most defendants “were law-abiding citizens who were sucked into the scheme” by Park, Moscato said. The banks and other lenders that suffered losses probably will never see a dime in restitution, he added, because Park has no assets and likely will be deported.