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Five arrested on extortion charges in metro Atlanta

Members of a metro Atlanta-based gang were arrested for allegedly terrorizing businesses in and around Gwinnett County as part of a “protection” ring, authorities said.

A federal grand jury this week indicted five Gwinnett County men on extortion, drug trafficking and gun charges, prosecutors said.

Eugene Thomas Chung, 39, Athith A. Vorasith, 24, Jong Sung Kim, 48, Ye El Choi, 30, and Thomas Jungwon Lee, 32, were arrested Thursday, prosecutors said.

“These defendants, whose calling cards were violence and intimidation, allegedly terrorized local businesses by shaking them down for cash in return for ‘protection,’” said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “The community does not need this kind of protective service, or any of the other illegal services the defendants allegedly offered.”

According to prosecutors, the five men used guns, violence, threats and force to extort money and property from businesses, beating up and promising to kill one business owner and boasting of making victims “permanently limp, blind or deaf.”

Federal agents became involved after the gang visited the Gah Bin Korean bar and restaurant in Gwinnett County demanding a monthly payment in exchange for “protection,” promising to beat up the victim, harass customers and employees and damage the restaurant if the business owner didn’t hand over a portion of the profits, authorities said.

This was about July 2009. Over the next four months, prosecutors said Chung and his crew strong-armed the victim into paying between $400 and $800 a month.

When the victim missed a December payment, Chung, Kim and Vorasith paid a visit to the restaurant, where Chung aimed a loaded handgun at the victim’s head, threatening to pull the trigger, according to the indictment.

Then Vorasith punched the victim in the face, breaking the victim’s nose, and Chung pistol-whipped the victim, knocking the victim unconscious, according to the indictment.

Chung promised to kill the victim if police were called, authorities said.

Payments resumed, according to the indictment.

Sometime after the victim was assaulted, FBI agents began monitoring the victim’s tribute payments, authorities said.

An undercover agent was introduced to Chung, Vorasith and Lee as the victim’s rich uncle interested in buying marijuana during a recorded conversation, according to the indictment.

Chung listed the criminal enterprises his gang controlled, including gambling, marijuana distribution, extortion and debt collection, prosecutors said.

Authorities said Chung offered to help the undercover agent if he needed money collected, saying, “If you need us to beat up anybody, we’re professionals at that.”

The undercover agent claimed a businessman in Houston owed him $200,000 and was behind on payments, and Chung offered to collect the debt, prosecutors said.

Chung and Vorasith face up to a life prison sentence, and Lee, Choi and Kim could spend as many as 20 years in federal prison if convicted, authorities said.

They also face possible fines of more than $1 million, authorities said.

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