Mirage debt collection figure disappoints Korean media

Fri, Jul 30, 1999 (11:57 a.m.)

At the center of the legal battle between Mirage Resorts and Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts is one contention -- that Laura Choi provided secret lists of the Mirage's South Korean high rollers to Trump.

On Thursday a contingent of Korean media members wanted the same thing from Choi.

What was meant to be Choi's chance to answer Mirage's charges deteriorated at times into an arguing match, as Korean reporters repeatedly demanded the names of Korean nationals whom Choi collected debts from in Korea. In Korea, Choi spokesman Gary Frischer said, the contentious list "is like Heidi Fleiss' black book."

Korean culture frowns heavily on gambling -- and that's elevated the Mirage debt collection story to national scandal. Choi's attorneys say she made 15 to 20 debt collection trips to Korea from 1992 to 1997, all at the orders of her superiors at Mirage.

"They control me," Choi said. "I cannot control the Mirage."

Choi's lawyers contended she didn't give that list to Trump, and they weren't about to give it to the Korean press.

"There is no list, there are no names available," Frischer said.

"Frankly, we have no interest in the list because it doesn't pertain to this case," Choi attorney Gregory Smith said.

Choi's lawyers also shot down a plea by one Korean TV reporter to have Choi speak on camera in Korean. Though the conference was held for Choi to rebut Mirage's charges of embezzlement, most of the talking was done by her attorneys.

That raised the ire of the Korean media contingent.

"Why did you even hold a press conference?" one irate Korean reporter asked.

Smith responded that there had been "such negative press here about Laura that we felt it was necessary to set the record straight."

As for the funds Choi was alleged to have embezzled, Smith said, "The money is in Seoul, Korea. If (Mirage) wants it, they know where to go get it."

Alan Feldman, spokesman for Mirage, questioned Choi's decision to hold a news conference in the middle of the court battle.

"It seems to me there is an adage that if you have a really good case, you tell it to a judge," Feldman said. "If you have a really bad case, you tell it to a reporter."

Choi's attorneys did provide reporters with several new documents -- documents they say prove that Choi was ordered to go to Korea to collect gaming debts at the command of "rogue Mirage executives."

"We haven't given you a fraction of the documents available," Smith said.

Smith said, however, that there was no evidence that Mirage Chairman Steve Wynn knew about the collection activities.

One document, purported to be an internal memo, was from Choi to Al Faccinto Jr., Mirage's vice president of international marketing. The header reads, "Promotion/Collection Trip to Korea" and asks Faccinto to approve a $15,000 advance for a Choi "collection and promotion trip to Korea." The photocopied document shows an approval signature that Smith said is Faccinto's.

The memo is dated July 8, 1997. While attempting to return home from this collection trip, Choi was arrested by Korean authorities. She would spend 97 days in a Korean jail before her release.

The second document provided appears to be a spreadsheet document outlining Mirage's overseas debt collection efforts. One line states that Choi was paid $40,000 in Korea on April 24, 1997. Six other, separate entries state that Choi planned to collect more than $850,000 in debts during a May 1997 trip. The Mirage spreadsheet is dated May 12, 1997.

A third document is a cover letter to a legal summary from a Korean lawyer warning Mirage that debt collection efforts in Korea would violate that country's laws. The letter, from Mirage executive Bruce Aguilera to Faccinto, is dated June 3, 1997.

"Perhaps you and I might want to meet with our Korean representatives to discuss," Aguilera writes.

Feldman said all of the documents Choi has presented were designed "specifically to tell her not to do these things."

"She was told not to do it, but that would have broken up her own deal, so she continued to do it and got caught," Feldman said. Mirage has alleged Choi was collecting the debts in Korea in violation of Mirage's orders and pocketing the funds for her own use.

When told about Mirage's position, Smith said, "I think the documents speak for themselves." Smith said Choi was told "to be careful" by Mirage executives on her future collection trips, but was still ordered to continue making the trips.

When asked why he hadn't put the documents into court evidence, Smith said that would have been "premature."

Choi is one of several defendants in Mirage's federal lawsuit against Trump. In its lawsuit, Mirage alleges that Trump conspired to acquire confidential Mirage information through Choi and former Mirage executive Paul Liu. Choi responded by filing a countersuit alleging wrongful termination and defamation.

"I am very sad about what they did to me," Choi said. "They say a lot of wrong things about me.

"Because they are a big company ... they have got to blame it on somebody."


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