on May 04, 2012 at 12:17 PM, updated May 04, 2012 at 5:23 PM
Express-Times File PhotoRichard Kim, left, walks into district court in Wind Gap with his attorney, Charles W. Gordon.
Richard Kim, 34, spoke only in whispers as he entered a guilty plea to Northampton County Judge Leonard Zito to corruption of minors and 17 counts of indecent assault. In return for his plea, the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office agreed to drop 59 other related charges.
Authorities say Kim repeatedly molested a then 13-year-old Korean girl who was attending Pius X High School through Ace Academy USA, the foreign exchange program run by his father, Min Kim. Assistant District Attorney Patricia Broscius said the victim was one of several Korean students living at the Pen Argyl academy. Students kept to a strict regiment of chores, were told not to speak Korean at school and were not allowed to participate in most after-school activities offered at the high school.
Broscius said the victim was struggling to adapt to her surroundings in America, and was scolded by Min Kim, who was called “Daddy Director” by the students, for not smiling enough. The one person she felt close to was Richard Kim, who showed her compassion and made her feel good about herself, Broscius said.
“He was her friend at the school. He was her only friend there,”Broscius said.
Their bond led to one-on-one counseling sessions, Broscius said, but about one month after her arrival in the country, Kim leaned in and kissed her, authorities say. Kim promised not to do it again after the victim pulled away in shock, but the sexual contact gradually escalated to groping and forcing her to perform sexual acts on him, Broscius said.
The contact continued for three months before the victim, who is not Catholic, eventually told a priest during confession at the high school, Broscius said. The priest told her she needed to step forward about the abuse, and the victim alerted her mother back in South Korea what was happening, according to authorities. The mother came to the United State to remove her daughter from the school and informed authorities, Broscius said.
The plea was a stark turnaround for Kim, who vehemently denied the assaults took place when he was first charged. His attorney, Charles Gordon, declined to comment on why his client accepted the plea deal a week before he was scheduled for trial.
The criminal investigation into Richard Kim was hampered by Min Kim, Broscius said. He is under investigation for allegedly telling the other students at Ace to support Richard Kim over the victim, but Broscius would not provide further details. Most of the students at the academy have since left, she said.
A call to Min Kim seeking comment was not immediately returned. Gordon said he is in talks with the elder Kim but does not represent him. He is still listed as a staff member on Pius X High School’s website.
Broscius requested Richard Kim, who was out on bail, be held in Northampton County Prison. She feared that if Kim were allowed to remain out on bail, the remaining students at Ace Academy would be subjected to discipline for their willingness to testify against him. Broscius also said Kim was a flight risk.
“I am certain he has ties to Korea, and I am certain he has the ability and wherewithal to flee the country,” she said.
Gordon dismissed Broscius’ claims, saying Richard Kim has not had any contact with the school since he was charged and has been living in Philadelphia. Richard Kim was born in the United States, attended Penn State University and would be willing to surrender his passport as a show of good faith, he said. Gordon also said Richard Kim had no involvement in any pressure his father may have placed on the other students.
“We agreed the defendant should not be punished for the acts of the father,” Gordon said.
Zito reset Kim’s bail, raising it to 10 percent of $500,000, and ordered Kim to surrender his passport. Court records show Kim made bail, and he is due in court Aug. 3 for sentencing.
Ace Academy has a contract to send its students to Pius X High School through the 2017-18 school year, but Diocese of Allentown spokesman Matt Kerr said the school is reviewing whether to continue its relationship with Ace Academy. At the time the contract was signed, school officials saw the Korean academy as a way to keep the high school afloat as they struggled to keep enrollment up. In 2007, the Korean students made up seven percent of the 212-member student body. This year, enrollment has boomed up to 295, Kerr said.
“School enrollment has grown tremendously in recent years – not just with the Korean community, but overall. I’m sure the school is in a strong position,” he said.