Serial Embezzler Steals $1.5 Million from Moonies-Backed Ballet School to Fund Gambling Habit

By | May 11, 2021

The former comptroller of Washington DC-based Kirov Ballet School has pleaded guilty to defrauding her ex-employer out of $1.5 million.

sophia kim
Sophia Kim was rehired by the Kirov despite her 2013 conviction for stealing from another Moonies organization. (Image: Erin Scott/The New York Times)

According to prosecutors, Sophia Kim, 60, also known as Sookyeong Kim Sebold, used the money for gambling and to pay off debts at the MGM National Harbor in Maryland.

The dance school was established by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who founded the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies. Extraordinarily, this is the second time, Kim has been prosecuted for stealing money from a cultural organization run by the Church.

In 2013, when she worked for the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation, she was found guilty of siphoning off money meant for the Kirov and other cultural programs. She blew the funds at New Jersey casinos and served two years in prison.

It’s not clear why she was subsequently hired as the person with complete control of the school’s finances, although forgiveness is a key tenet of the Church’s doctrine. Famously, church members fasted and prayed for the forgiveness of Richard Nixon while camped outside the US Capitol during the Watergate Scandal.

Arrested at MGM National Harbor

Kim admitted that between approximately January 2018 and September 2018, she misappropriated approximately $1,501,285.12 from the school’s bank accounts through unauthorized check, debit, and credit card transactions.

Kim treated her company’s funds as her own personal bank account,” Timothy Thibault, acting special agent in charge of the criminal division at the FBIs Washington field office, said in a statement.

Prosecutors say Kim used her academy bank card 120 times to withdraw cash. She was arrested in the MGM National Harbor in November 2019 after the school spotted the transactions and called the FBI.

‘No Tolerance’

“For nearly a year, this defendant used her trusted position to fleece her nonprofit employer for 1.5 million dollars,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips.  “We have no tolerance for offenders raiding the coffers of the businesses and institutions that make our District great.”

According to The New York Times, at its peak in the 2000s the Kirov produced around a dozen top dancers per year, some of them now principals at some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies.

The Kirov took its name from the famous Russian company Mariinsky Ballet, which was known as Kirov Ballet during Soviet rule.

It’s not clear whether the Unification Church — a virulently anticommunist organization — is aware that the original Kirov was a Soviet politician and Bolshevik revolutionary, whose assassination was the pretext for Stalin’s first Great Purge.

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