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Monday, March 4, 2024

Restaurateur couple charged with bribery to undercover FBI agents

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A Korean couple is charged with bribery to secure a lease on nearby restaurants in San Francisco. [Screen captured from Google Maps]

A Korean American couple who own a restaurant in San Francisco has been charged with bribing local officials and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents.

Min Ki Paik (63) and Hye Paik (60), proprietors of Nick’s Lighthouse on Taylor Street in San Francisco’s touristy Pier 45 neighborhood, have been charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, according to the Mercury News.

Between September and October, the couple paid a total of $19,000 in bribes to San Francisco port officials and an FBI agent who was conducting an undercover investigation, local court records show.

The Paiks are accused of paying off officials to secure leases at Pier 45, where neighboring restaurants Pompei’s Grotto and Lou’s Fish Shack were scheduled to close in July.

Paik approached an official who manages San Francisco’s harbor pier in May, offering to pay him thousands of dollars to help him win a bid to acquire the restaurant sites. The official alerted the FBI, and an undercover FBI agent posed as an associate of the official and began investigating the couple.

During the course of the investigation, Paik reportedly delivered $3,000 in cash to port officials at three different locations. The undercover FBI agent then approached the couple as a co-worker to seal the deal.

In a meeting with the Paiks, the official and the undercover FBI agent allegedly agreed that if the Paiks won the bid to lease the two restaurants, they would gain $240,000 over 10 years at lower rents. Hye Paik also allegedly handed them $5,000 in cash.

The couple also offered a $5,000 bribe to a real estate agent to secure a lease on the property they hoped to occupy. The agent refused, saying in an email, “That is illegal and I will not take part in that.”

The Paiks were released on bail of $50,000 on November 28 at the initial court appearance. Their next court appearance is scheduled for January 3 next year. They could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The Paiks reportedly own about a dozen businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a restaurant at Pier 45.

BY HYOUNGJAE KIM, HOONSIK WOO    [kim.ian@koreadaily.com]