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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Complaint against chairman of LA Korean Festival Foundation filed with State Prosecution

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Moo Han Bae (left), chairman of the LA Korean Festival Foundation, and Brandon Lee, a director of the foundation, inspect the festival site on October 10 in preparation for the 2023 festival. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

The LA Korean Festival Foundation is embroiled in internal strife once again. A complaint has been filed against Moo Han Bae, the foundation’s chairman, by some board members who accuse him of a high-handed management approach.

This accusation comes as a shock, emerging less than ten days after the festival celebrated its 50th anniversary — a fresh embarrassment to the Korean American community.

Three of the foundation’s six board members filed a complaint (CT-9) with the California Department of Justice’s Registry of Charitable Trusts on September 18.

The California Department of Justice notified the complainants in an email on September 25 that it will conduct investigations and audits into charitable abuse, and that any criminal allegations will be referred to local law enforcement or the appropriate county prosecutor’s office.

The complaint accuses Bae of mishandling the foundation’s funds, alleging that he utilized them for emergency relief without the board of directors’ approval.

Bae is said to have bypassed standard meeting procedures essential for festival preparations, enforcing a closed-door meeting on August 29, 2023. Accusations also include Bae’s alleged intention to implement measures that would bypass open bidding processes and exclude certain ethnic companies from festival service selections.

The board members pointed out in their complaint that Bae without board approval had donated $60,000 of the foundation’s funds to flood-affected areas in South Korea on July 19, 2023. Furthermore, Bae has been accused of violating internal protocols by inducting a board member who hadn’t paid the initiation fee. His eligibility as a board member has also been questioned due to a prior $76,000 fine for illegal political contributions in 2015.

Yoon Sook Park (front right) and Brandon Lee, both board members, engage in a discussion during the LA Korean Festival Foundation’s board meeting on July 25. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily] 

A board member who participated in filing the complaint elaborated on its background, describing Bae’s management style as self-centered and arbitrary. “Despite evident issues such as opaque financial practices, Bae seemingly lacks self-awareness and has expressed intentions to retain his position for the upcoming festival next year,” said the board member.

Caught off guard by these allegations, Bae defended his actions and expressed confusion, under the impression that all his actions had been approved by the board. “I’ve been working hard for a long time to prepare for the festival. I’m surprised and don’t understand this sort of situation because they were all approved by the board,” said Bae.

In an unprecedented move, the complainants opted for a criminal complaint seeking criminal penalties, diverging from the conventional civil lawsuit approach typically adopted by non-profits facing internal disagreements. The severity and clarity of the allegations prompted this decision, aiming for a state prosecution investigation into the matter.

Currently, the festival foundation board consists of seven members, including the chairman. Three of them are new this year. Strikingly, all three of the existing board members joined the complaint, but the new board members supported Bae. The board is completely split in two.

The infighting at the festival foundation was predictable. The new and old board members had already clashed in July. A younger board member had used an expletive against an older board member. A public apology from the new board members seemed to settle the matter, but the conflict escalated when the new directors’ non-payment of board initiation fees came up again.

In this situation, the festival was carried out, but there seems to have been little effort on the part of the chairman to repair the board. The complaint is more of an accusation against the chairman who failed to lead the board properly. This would not have happened if the board members’ opinions were fully gathered and efficiently coordinated.

By Mooyoung Lee   lee.mooyoung@koreadaily.com