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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Korean apologizes in smuggling case

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

COEUR d’ALENE – A Korean national was sentenced Monday to time served – nearly five months in jail – for helping smuggle 13 Korean women and one man over the Canadian border in an RV in April.

Bum Suk Kim, 33, apologized to the court in a written statement that was translated by an interpreter, saying he had made a mistake. “I came to the United States and I did not have a job, so I was tempted to do something that I shouldn’t have done,” Kim wrote. “I’m truly sorry that I committed this crime.”

Kim is being turned over to the custody of immigration officials, who could deport him. If he returns to the United States after deportation, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

The case was one of several that raised fears about human trafficking into Idaho, and a legislative committee is studying whether such trafficking is becoming a problem in the state.

But federal prosecutor Nancy Cook said Monday, “This is not a trafficking case.”

Human trafficking involves force and intimidation, but in this case, the women told authorities they voluntarily hid in the RV to illegally enter the United States. “Each one of these people was interviewed,” Cook said.

Kim, who had no prior criminal record, pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of transporting illegal aliens. A co-defendant, Sang Yoon Kim, 28, of Vancouver, B.C., pleaded guilty to a similar charge earlier and also was sentenced to time served, which was four months and one day in jail.

“It’s pretty much what everyone else under similar circumstances has gotten,” said Terry Ryan, Bum Suk Kim’s Spokane attorney.

Sang Yoon Kim was driving an RV south on U.S. Highway 95 in April when he was stopped in the middle of the night by U.S. Border Patrol agents who were acting on a tip from Canadian authorities. As one agent spoke with the nervous and shaking driver, another noticed steamy windows on the RV. The women were discovered lying on the floor and on a side bed in the RV.

According to court records, Sang Yoon Kim said he had flown from Vancouver to Los Angeles on March 31 and met Bum Suk Kim, to whom he is not related. The two rented the RV and drove to Idaho. Sang Yoon Kim, who said it was his fourth smuggling run, dropped off Bum Suk Kim at the Coeur d’Alene Casino and Resort, planning to pick him up on his way back south. Bum Suk Kim was arrested by Kootenai County authorities.

The two said they were paid $200 to $350 per person to help smuggle the Koreans into the United States.

“There seems to be a lot of consternation about it,” Cook said.

The legislative committee has been looking into whether foreign women are being coerced into going to the United States to be exploited by commercial sex rings or to become child brides. It has not reached any findings.