A Queens woman accused of keeping two children as slaves—by allegedly passing herself off as their mother—and forcing them to give her manicures and hours-long massages was arrested by police for suspected child abuse back in May, The Daily Beast has learned.
Sook Yeong Park, 42, allegedly injured the younger boy so badly in May that he had to be hospitalized. At the time, she was arrested but not convicted of any crime. The Korean-American community rallied around Park, and the Queens District Attorney’s office told The Daily Beast she was let off with a warning.
“She received an [adjournment contemplation of dismissal],” spokeswoman Silvia Estevez said. “Basically, she was given certain conditions to stay out of trouble, and the case would be dismissed.”
The earlier complaint against Park alleged brutal mistreatment of the then-13-year-old boy on May 8, including that she “broke a glass dish over the complainant’s leg causing bruising and substantial pain.”
The police officer involved in the case added that the boy said Park had hit him in the back with a wooden slipper. The cop found lacerations on the boy’s face, bruises on his knee, and another laceration on the back—where he’d said Park hit him with the wooden shoe.
The injuries were so severe the boy had to be taken to a hospital for treatment. But Park was allowed to resume life as usual—the case was postponed until September 2016, Estevez said.
The Korean community rallied around Park in May, led by the Korean Parents’ Association. While the investigation didn’t make it into the English-language press, Korean media covered a meeting in her defense led by Christine Colligan, known also as Yoonhee Choi.
“A mother who lives in Bayside was accused of abusing her 13-year-old son and was arrested,” Colligan allegedly said at a May meeting. “The association is working to show that she is innocent.”
In Park’s version of events, the boy injured his face at a playground and was subsequently asked by school officials what happened. Park claimed she was pressured to confess that the boy was being abused, and claimed that her “son” was confused and wasn’t able to answer police questions correctly. The Korean Parents’ Association claimed to have a recording of the boy saying he was too scared to answer questions correctly, and a witness from the playground who saw him hurt his face.
The Korean-language article about the meeting added that Park wasn’t allowed near the kids, so she was staying at her church and in her car.
Colligan told The Daily Beast that she still believes Park is innocent of the May charges, and that she worries that the current allegations don’t take cultural differences into account.
Asking family members for massages isn’t uncommon for “any Korean-American, or first-American, or 1.5 or second, a lot of times,” she said. “That’s a very family thing. and i just want to make sure that’s not a misunderstanding on culture.”
“Ask any Korean mother,” she added.
Colligan said she urged Park, who told her she was being hounded by press at her home, to confront the media and assert her innocence.
“I want to know who interviewed the child, and I just have to have the whole story,” Colligan said. “Because we have the incident with her where she was wrongly accused.”
A spokesman for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services said privacy laws prevented him on commenting on what, if any, actions were taken in response to the May complaints, but confirmed that the administration has opened a case on the most recent allegations.
Recently, the boy, now 14, had complained to middle school officials about the alleged ongoing abuse. They notified authorities at his sister’s high school, and officials there said they also saw signs of physical abuse on the girl.
“What you have is a case entirely based upon the uncorroborated statement of a 16-year-old who doesn't like the parenting choices of her legally adoptive mother,” Park's lawyer, Dennis Ring, said at her arriagnment. “That does not add up to a crime.”
Among other things, prosecutors in the case allege that the kids were forced to work at grocery stores and hand their paychecks over to Park. They also say that the girl, now 16, had to give Park manicures and massages, and that she once massaged Park for five hours while the woman watched TV. The children were allegedly brought to the U.S. from Korea in 2010—and Park supposedly kept them from contacting their real parents for years, and even took away their passports, according to the Queens District Attorney.
Another extreme claim by prosecutors is that the girl was forced to skip school for almost a month, in order to help Park out around the house. When she was at school, teachers reported that the girl looked exhausted and frequently fell asleep—which prosecutors say may be the result of Park allegedly forcing her to work around the house for 10 hours after school.
Lights were on at the three-story Flushing home where the abuse allegedly took place when a Daily Beast reporter visited Tuesday night, but no one answered the door. Neighbors said that Park had been released on bond, but was lying low, and pointed to her black sedan parked down the street.
Neighbors say they were most surprised to find out that Park was not the biological mother of the children. Though they’d noticed the kids doing a lot of work around the house, but many said they’d chalked it up to cultural differences.
“The kids were well-behaved,” neighbor Ifthemia Stathakis said. “I hope it’s not true. I hope they were not abused.”
“When it was Halloween, we gave them candy,” her son added.
Her husband, Jimmy, said this sort of sordid tale is unexpected in their quiet residential neighborhood.
“I thought there were parents,” he said. “I didn’t know that there were no parents.”
Another neighbor across the street said Park appeared to do far less than the kids. “She never lifted a finger, that woman,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified. When Park brought home groceries, the woman said she saw the two kids make multiple trips to carry them in. “We’re talking like BJ’s stuff,” she said, referring to the bulk store.
That neighbor added that during a cold spell a few weeks ago, she saw the female child tidying the yard in summer clothes and flip flops.
Prosecutors also allege that the children were made to sleep without mattresses, and that the older child slept in a closet. But neighbors say they’re shocked that the alleged abuse went beyond mere cultural differences.
“I gotta say we believed it was her mother,” said John Setari, a next-door neighbor. “Because I was introduced like, ‘Oh, this is my mother.’”
Setari said he noticed other children in the house, including a young girl and two older kids in their 20s. But the two at the center of this investigation seemed very sweet, he added, even though they were “always working.”
“But I gotta say this, the boy didn’t look happy for a long time,” he added. “We just want everything to be good for the kids.”
Translation by Angela Kim.