BY JIM DOOLEY – A former Bank of America employee in Hawaii who allegedly stole more than $1 million from the bank’s mortgage loan customers has been accused of fraud in a state court lawsuit.

Michael Ho Kim is the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation and is believed to have fled to Korea after he was fired by the bank late last year.

A civil fraud lawsuit filed last week alleges that Kim scammed $75,000 from a local couple, Robin and Frances Kaneshiro, after they met him while trying to refinance a mortgage loan, according to their state court lawsuit.

Kim gave the couple “unsolicited investment advice” last year, promising them high, short-term investment earnings on a “real estate transaction” he was handling, the suit alleged.

The couple gave Kim $75,000 in November and he repaid them $80,000 five days later, the suit continued.

The Kaneshiros entrusted Kim with $75,000 more in late November after he promised to repay them $90,000 by early January, they charged.

After the January 7 second repayment deadline expired and the Kaneshiros could not contact Kim, the suit said, they began researching Kim on the Internet and “discovered a Hawaii Reporter article published January 6” which revealed the federal investigation of Kim.

The Bank of America said in a written statement in January that it had fired Kim and reported “possible embezzlement of customer-paid escrow funds” to the FBI.

The bank said it was “working with apparent victims, and as missing funds are documented, the bank is restoring the funds to their escrow accounts and moving toward completion of their loans, when appropriate,” Rick Simon, Bank of America media relations officer, said.

Sources familiar with Kim’s activities told Hawaii Reporter that he convinced his bank mortgage loan clients that checks they wrote to be deposited in escrow accounts should be made out to Kim personally.

Kim allegedly never deposited the money in escrow but cashed the checks and used the proceeds to pay pressing gambling debts.

Special Agent Tom Simon, spokesman for the Honolulu FBI office, said in January and again this week that the bureau “does not discuss the existence of any ongoing investigation.”

Kim is a defendant in a pending mortgage foreclosure lawsuit that was filed in state court last year by the Bank of America.

The bank asked last month for a delay in that case because Kim has not been served with court papers and his whereabouts are unknown.

Kim, who speaks Korean, was described by business acquaintance as a “very productive” mortgage loan officer here.

He previously worked for Countrywide Financial, a national mortgage lender that was acquired by Bank of America in early 2008 during the national subprime mortgage financial crisis.

The Kaneshiro lawsuit filing was first reported by Courthouse News Service.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com