A former Wilshire Center & Koreatown Neighborhood (WCKNC) board member and Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) city inspector has finally been sentenced after he pleaded guilty last year in a federal bribery case that alleged he took more than $30,000 in bribes in relation to at least a dozen properties in and around Koreatown.
Samuel In, 66, of Glendale, a 37-year veteran of LADBS, agreed last year to plead guilty to one count of soliciting and receiving monetary payments that he described to victims as “fees.” He was sentenced Monday to two and a half years in federal prison. He has also been ordered to pay the city $30,000.
“Corruption by any official corrodes public confidence in governmental institutions,” said United States Attorney André Birotte, Jr. “In this case, a government employee directly threatened the safety of the public by exploiting his position to line his own pockets. The victims were all the more vulnerable because they had limited abilities in English and depended on Mr. In to help them navigate through the inspection processes.”
In one example described in court documents, a victim identified as T.C., who wanted to open a retail store in Los Angeles in 2008, paid $5,000 to In. To open the store, the victim needed to convert office space in a process that required a building permit. The victim had limited English language ability and had a difficult time completing the LADBS paperwork. During one of the victim’s visits to LADBS offices, In assisted the victim in the Korean language, informing him that he was a senior inspector at LADBS, and advising the victim about construction plans.
The victim followed In’s advice and received a building permit from LADBS. Following the issuance of the permit, In went to the victim’s business and said he would take care of the inspections and other procedures through the final inspection of the retail store, if the victim paid In $4,000 in “fees.” In later increased the amount of his “fees” to $5,000, asked that any payments by check be made with the payee line left blank, and advised that checks made payable to LADBS would not be useful. The victim ultimately made several cash payments totaling $5,000.
As part of his plea agreement, In admitted that he solicited and accepted bribery payments totaling more than $30,000 in connection with his official duties in relation to at least 11 other Koreatown properties.
“Mr. In took advantage of Koreatown residents by taking their money under false pretenses but also by deluding victims into a false understanding of how city business is conducted,” said Bill Lewis, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty is another step forward in restoring honest government to the city of Los Angeles.”
The FBI began an undercover investigation of LADBS inspectors in the summer of 2010 after an informant reported that LADBS inspectors took cash bribes in exchange for necessary permit approvals on residential construction projects. Two former inspectors pleaded guilty to accepting bribe payments and were sentenced to federal prison.
The case against In is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Atty. Maggie Carter revealed that even with this sentence, In will continue to receive a substantial pension from the city.
The FBI urges anyone with information about building inspectors or other officials accepting bribes to contact the FBI by calling its Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565 or by sending an e-mail to the dedicated anti-corruption address: REPORTBRIBES@ic.fbi.gov.
Samuel In was an “upstanding” member of the WCKNC (Wilshire Center – Koreatown Neighborhood Council), the body which makes recommendations on Land Use and other zoning matters, from as early as 2005 until 2012.
Corruption allegations have also rocked the city’s Housing Department in recent years where a Korean-speaking clerk was convicted of bribery and accused of taking money from immigrants dealing with code-enforcement issues.