After more than a year has passed, the suspect in the case of the Kirov Ballet School in Washington D.C. being embezzled out of more than 1.5 million USD has pleaded guilty. Sophia Kim admitted that she stole the money and used it to gamble and pay off casino debts at the MGM National Harbor in Maryland.
The embezzled ballet school was established by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church. The church is more commonly known as the Moonies, based on the founder’s last name. The latest admission of guilt was found to be the second time that Kim was found to be stealing from a cultural organization operated by the same Church. The first instance saw Kim going to prison for two years in 2013. At the time, she was working at the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation. In her tenure, she was found to be siphoning off money that was meant to go to cultural programs which included the Kirov Ballet School. The first time around, she used the cash she embezzled to gamble at casinos in New Jersey.
No further information could be found regarding why she was hired by the school that was founded by the same church. Additionally, why she was put in a position of power that gave her full control of the finances at the school. Speculation suggests that she was rehired since the church holds forgiveness in high regard and is one of the key tenets of the doctrine. As a precedent, members of the church also prayed and fasted for the forgiveness of then U.S. president Richard Nixon amidst the proceedings of the Watergate Scandal, outside the US. Capitol building.
In a statement from Kim, she went on to say that she took funds to the sum of 1,501,285.12 USD between January and September 2018. She made these withdrawals through several transactions that included check, credit and debit cards. Special agent Timothy Thibault, the FBI agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office’s criminal division, said that Kim was using the school’s funds as her personal bank account, drawing money whenever she needed it. During the court proceedings, prosecutors stated that Kim used her school bank card 120 times to withdraw the funds. In November 2019, Kim was finally caught at MGM National Harbor, this came after the school noticed the suspicious transactions and contacted the FBI.
The Kirov Ballet School has long had a prestigious history in Washington D.C. In the 2000s, when the Kirov Ballet School was at its peak, the academy produced approximately a dozen top ballet dancers each year. Some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies now have Kirov alumni as principals of their relative ballet schools. Channing D. Phillips, the Acting U.S. Attorney said that the defendant used her position at the school to defraud more than 1.5 million USD from her trusted nonprofit employer for almost a year. He added that there is no tolerance for offenders stealing from the coffers of institutions and businesses that make the District great. No further information has been provided that speaks to Kim’s motives and if targeting the same church was her objective all along or if it just happened to be an opportunity she could not pass up.