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In a twisted story of murder and greed, a California man was convicted of killing his business partner in a violent attack and then posing as the slain man in email messages for months—writing his victim’s family and business associates about a supposed trip around the world.
Throughout his adult life, Shin repeatedly betrayed those closest to him, once staging his own kidnapping in order to fleece his parents of $1 million and later stealing from a man who had tried to help him financially, before Shin’s dark deeds culminated in the brutal murder of business partner, Chris Smith, in 2010.
A Kidnapping Hoax
Shin, the only child of wealthy Korean American immigrants living in Southern California, once had big dreams of his own.
According to former roommate James Moon, Shin wanted to be a millionaire by the time he was 30 years old.
Shin was already driving a fancy Mercedes sports car by the age of 23 and had landed a job at Merrill Lynch right out of college. But his life would take a bizarre turn while he and Moon lived together in Irvine.
Moon told “American Greed” that one day he got a call from Shin’s distraught father who had just received an email telling him his only son had been kidnapped. The kidnapper, who used the name “Curtis Ransom,” demanded $1 million in cash if he ever wanted to see his son alive again.
“I was worried and concerned and scared for Ed,” Moon said. “I just wanted to try to find him.”
Moon left his job and arrived home to find his apartment in disarray and police scouring the area. For two days, no one heard from Shin or the supposed kidnapper until a computer investigator determined that the ransom email had been sent from Shin’s parents’ mansion.
Although Shin was never charged in connection with the crime, authorities would later conclude that Shin had been trying to extort his father and developed the kidnapping hoax himself.
“I just couldn’t believe it and I was shocked,” Moon said. “I felt really bad for Mr. and Mrs. Shin. I mean he’s their only son, their only child. He’s kind of like their pride and joy and this just kind of shattered everything for them.”
Shady Business Dealings
Several years later, in 2006, Shin would cross paths with magazine publisher Sue Kaufenberg. Kaufenberg and her husband, Joe, owned and published Legends Sports Magazine but after Joe’s terminal cancer diagnosis, the business had become too much for them and they were looking for a new owner.
Shin, who was married by now and had several children with his wife, seemed like the perfect fit and offered to buy the business for $1 million to be paid in installments.
“It sounded like a really good deal,” Kaufenberg told “American Greed.”
But Kaufenberg said she never received the first payment and when she confronted Shin, he told her that “he could make me disappear.”
The couple sued Shin to try to gain the money, but a former employee would later come by their house and tell them that Shin had instructed him to case their house and wanted him to beat up the couple unless they agreed to drop the lawsuit.
Kaufenberg said she never received payment for the magazine, but was left fearing for her life.
“It was just such an unbelievable time and he was such a scary guy,” she said. “He was like a split personality I guess is what you would say.”
Joseph Gray, who met Shin through a men’s bible study group at church, would also come to regret his relationship with Shin, a man he believed to be an honest, family man.
Gray told “American Greed” he had once loaned Shin money after Shin confided that his sports magazine was struggling and even offered him a job at his company LG Technologies.
“I could tell that Ed was driven and I had been in situations in my life where I helped certain people and they have risen above my expectations and I love it when that happens,” Gray said.
But their relationship soured when Gray learned that Shin had been seen at Las Vegas casinos gambling with large amounts of money and he realized that Shin had embezzled more than $1 million from his company.
Shin was eventually convicted of embezzlement in Riverside County but rather than send Shin to jail, the judge ordered him to pay Gray $700,000 in restitution and placed him on probation. If he couldn’t come up with the money, the judge said Shin would have to go to prison.
A Motive For Murder
Investigators believe Shin’s desire to find the money to pay the restitution may have been the motive in Smith’s murder.
Shin and Smith had owned The 800 Exchange, a lead generation business for debt consolidation companies and class action attorneys, but after Shin’s embezzlement conviction, Smith began to fear that Shin may try to steal money from their business as well and emailed his lawyer about his concerns.
“We need to make sure he doesn’t have room for fraud,” Smith wrote in one email, according to “American Greed.” “He is itching to do it again.”
Smith had insisted he get the passwords to the company’s bank accounts and wanted both men to co-sign all checks above $10,000.
The business relationship between the two men was strained, but on the day Smith would disappear—June 4, 2010—Smith suddenly sent his attorney an email saying that Shin had agreed to buy him out of the business.
Smith allegedly made similar statements to his family, writing in a series of emails that he had cashed out of the business for $1 million and was sailing around the world on his 40-foot yacht.
“I finally found what I love, moving around and seeing the whole world. I can’t believe I almost trapped myself,” he seemingly wrote in one message to his family.
Yet, as the year went on, the messages from Smith took a darker tone with one message even saying he had contemplated suicide. The family received a final message on Dec. 26, 2010 from Smith’s account claiming he was in South Africa and was trying to sell some gold coins, before the messages came to a sudden halt.
Investigators would later determine that Smith had never sent the messages at all and had been killed months earlier in his office building, after finding evidence of blood splatter throughout his office.
They believed Shin had really sent the emails posing as Smith—a trick eerily similar to the kidnapping hoax from years earlier—after after killing him.
Shin initially denied ever physically attacking Smith, before later telling investigators that Smith died after he accidentally hit his head on the corner of a desk during an elaborate physical fight between the pair, that included jumping on desks and battling throughout the office.
But a jury wouldn’t buy Shin’s story and he was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Smith’s body has never been found.
Shin will now spend the rest of his life behind bars, but those who knew him before the murder believe his crimes may not have continued to escalate if he had ever been forced to face consequences for his actions.
“He was empowered. Every time you commit a crime or do a wrong to somebody and get away with it, it empowers you,” private investigator Joe Dalu said.
To learn more about Shin’s deception and Smith’s chilling murder, tune in to “American Greed” Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.
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