John Joungwoong Yai, 59, Santa Monica, was not charged with espionage by the federal grand jury in Los Angeles, although he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted of failing to register; he also faces additional charges of trying to smuggle cash into the United States during a trip in which he met with North Korean operatives in Eastern Europe.
"Between December 1997 and April 2000, Yai acted in the United States as an agent for the North Korean government and was paid for his services," the FBI said when Yai was arrested Feb. 5 at his home after a search warrant was carried out and his computer was taken into custody as evidence while puzzled relatives and neighbors watched. "He was tasked by North Korean officials to obtain classified information and to identify and recruit other agents to meet with North Korean officials abroad."
Yai was scheduled to be arraigned March 3 along with his wife, Susan, who was charged in connection with an alleged attempt to smuggle $18,000 in cash into the United States. The money was allegedly obtained from North Korean officials during a trip the couple took to the Czech Republic in April 2000.
There has been no evidence publicized that indicated Yai had actually been able to get a hold of any sensitive information or recruit anyone else to act as a spy. The former snack shop owner and naturalized U.S. citizen remained held in federal custody without bail pending his arraignment.