A disbarred Bayside attorney could spend nearly a half-decade behind bars for swindling dozens of clients out of nearly $2 million in lawsuit settlement money.
Yohan Choi, 47, of 23rd Avenue in Bayside, operated a law office on Northern Boulevard in Flushing, pleaded guilty in January for grand larceny before Queens Supreme Court Justice Eugene Guarino for bilking more than 50 clients, whom he represented before and after he was barred from practicing law, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
On Wednesday, April 6, Queens Supreme Court Justice Jerry Iannece sentenced Choi to 1.5 to 4.5 years in prison. Additionally, Choi signed 28 confessions of judgment which requires him to repay in excess of $1.8 million in restitution.
According to the charges, Choi held bank accounts for his law practice at several financial institutions, including Chase, Capital One and HSBC. A forensic examination of these accounts showed dozens of deposits for lawsuit settlements on behalf of Choi’s clients.
According to court records, in November 2016, a woman the defendant represented in a personal injury lawsuit agreed to settle a case for $52,500. The victim was entitled to just over $35,000, however, she never received any money from the settlement.
Another client of Choi’s settled her lawsuit in May 2018 for $75,000. After the lawyer’s fee and other expenses were deducted the victim should have received just over $50,000. Choi never turned over that money, despite the insurance company depositing a check totaling $75,000 into his account.
Katz said a man who also hired Choi to represent him in a personal injury case agreed to settle for $45,000 and was entitled to receive $30,150. The investigation showed that Choi’s bank account received a check from the insurance company for $45,000 on May 12, 2020. Three days later, that same escrow account totaled just $423. The victim never received the money he was due, Katz said.
According to the charges, Choi repeated this scheme at least 50 times over the course of five years. Clients due varying sums of money — from as little as $1,000 to more than $50,000 — were left empty-handed. In each instance, Choi’s business accounts show the checks were deposited — totaling more than $1.8 million — but his victims were never issued a check they were due.
Choi’s license to practice law was suspended in November 2017.
“This defendant took an oath to uphold the law. Unfortunately, he let his own interest guide him instead of his fiduciary duty to represent his clients,” Katz said. “This disbarred lawyer pocketed more than $1.8 million that should have been distributed to the victims, who had already suffered and were due a settlement for a personal injury claim.”