By Joe Anuta
The Bayside man accused by the FBI of sending a death threat to a Pennsylvania bank was found not guilty late last month in Brooklyn federal court.
A jury took less than an hour to acquit Michael Chung, 52, who was cleared on charges of sending the malicious missive across state lines in August, according to federal court documents.
“I had confidence about how it was going to turn out, but to sit through the trial and have the jury decide your fate was a little scary,” said Chung, who was released after he was found innocent Oct. 25 and is now home with his wife.
On Aug. 6, a Sovereign Bank in Pottsville, Pa., received a threatening fax that appeared to have been signed by Chung.
Chung had been trying to sell his Bayside condo, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but was prevented from doing so by the $179,000 left on a home equity loan issued by Sovereign Bank.
The fax contained a plan on how Chung’s debt could be eliminated, but the end of the communique also claimed that the Second Amendment authorized the sender to use “deadly force to protect my interests as a national citizen.”
He was arrested a day later and denied bail, spending the next three months in Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn awaiting trial, he said.
But his spirits were lifted once federal prosecutors handed over their evidence to Chung’s lawyer, Ephraim Savitt.
Aside from a copy of the fax, they included surveillance footage capturing precisely when the message in question was sent from a Bayside Staples store.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Savitt said. “What was wrong with the picture is that it was not my guy.”
Savitt said the footage clearly showed someone else sent the fax, and he was shocked that the government continued to pursue the case in light of such an obvious piece of evidence.
The man in the surveillance appears to be Asian and though Chung is Korean, a group of neighbors said that he was definitely not the person in the video.
Savitt said the defense team is “serious considering” suing the government in civil court for Chung’s treatment, especially since he was denied bail for the three months leading up to the trial.
After Chung’s arrest, the FBI released a statement indicating it believed Chung to be affiliated with the Sovereign Citizen Movement, a group that does not believe in federal law and in paying taxes and is classified as a terrorist group by the bureau.
Chung denied he was part of the group, saying agents manufactured the claim.
But Savitt said Chung did have some identification with the group’s philosophy, which has been linked to radicals like Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, but that his affiliation ended at a dislike for taxes and never came near to violence.
Chung is bitter about some portions of the ordeal, especially how he was treated by law enforcement.
But he said his time spent in jail was actually enlightening.
“I learned about myself and about humanity,” he said. “It was kind of tragic because I could see this happening with the other guys who were locked up.”
Chung said the real suffering was borne by his wife and mother, who had to deal with what he called his vilification in the news media.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.