Extortion charges were dismissed Thursday against three staff members of a Koreatown tabloid newspaper who had been accused of demanding money from businesses that were the subject of running investigative stories.
The dismissal of charges was announced by Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ken Marks, who said the action was taken because prosecutors could not locate a key witness.
The publisher of the Ka Ju News, Tae Kyun Kim, 45; chief reporter Sang Suk Kim, 31, (no relation) and editor Kook Kyun Chung, 32, said the dismissal confirmed their claims that the charges were attempts at retaliation by business owners disgruntled over the paper's muckraking journalism.
Los Angeles police investigators had accused the trio of demanding money to discontinue investigative reports about alleged improprieties at a car dealership and a restaurant.
"I hope people know now that I told the truth in those articles," reporter Kim said after the hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Prosecutors identified the missing prosecution witness as the former owner of a Koreatown car dealership.
Kim said reports in Ka Ju News three years ago detailed fiscal malfeasance at the car dealership, which went bankrupt earlier this month.
Reporter Kim, who five years ago uncovered a widespread bribery scheme that led to indictments of a state acupuncture licensing official and 47 fraudulently licensed practitioners, said he has since been targeted for investigation by several law enforcement agencies.
Kim said the district attorney's office "already knows all about" the newspaper as a result of the acupuncture investigation and said he could not understand why other agencies had decided to investigate it.
Police have been frustrated in gaining the cooperation of any alleged extortion victims, said Detective Ray Futami. At least 15 non-subscription publications in Koreatown have been under investigation since the spring of last year, he said.
Reporter Kim said he believes there are Korean publications extorting advertisers, but said his paper was mistakenly targeted.