A Korean woman claims she was kept a prisoner for 12 years by a Buddhist Monk and his family in their Queens homes and temple. Sixty-year old Oak-Jin Oh has now filed a lawsuit in federal court, after a "friend" of the family helped her to escape.
Housekeeper Oak-Jin Oh alleges in her suit that the Monk and his family forced her to work long hours without pay, deprived her of medical care when she was sick, threatened to kill her if she didn't obey and “usually” refused to give her a bedroom or a bed to sleep in
From time to time, Oh was permitted to go outside to buy groceries for the group, but the lawsuit says
“She was threatened with reputational harm, physical harm and death,”
The Buddhist Monk named as a defendant in the suit is Soo Bok Choi. Also named are his two brothers, his son and daughter, a niece and the personal representative of his mother's estate. She died in 2009.
The New York Times reports that Ms. Oh met the Choi family in 1998 through at employment agency based in South Korea. Choi told the agency he wanted a housekeeper to work in his family's homes and in his temple in New York.
Oh agreed with the plan for her to go to the US and work for the family. She was to be paid 1.3 million Korean won a month, which equals about $1,200 at the current exchange rate. The lawsuit reveals that Choi flew with Oh to Toronto, then smuggled her into New York at night in a small boat.
Once she arrived in Queens, New York, Ms. Oh says she was forced to work 14 hours every day, with no time off. She says she was intimidated by the Choi family into staying quiet about her situation after they took her passport, withheld her salary, limited her contact with other people, monitored her telephone calls, and generally isolated her from anyone else. According to the lawsuit, the Monk told Oh that
"He could easily pay to have someone kill her"
He also frequently threatened to report her to immigration authorities and have her deported.
For the 12 years she was "employed" by them, Oh worked in the Choi family's homes in Queens, in Elmhurst, Little Neck, Bayside, Flushing and Whitestone. She was also forced to work at the family’s Buddhist temple, which they operated out of the family house in Little Neck until 2001.
One of Ms. Oh's lawyers, Ivy Suriopas says she was finally able to escape...
“With the assistance of a Good Samaritan, a friend of the family who visited the Choi home and took pity on the woman."
The Seattle Times reports that a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn declines to comment on the case.