HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Korean national will spend three months in prison for injecting hundreds of Hawaii residents with unapproved anti-aging products in so-called Botox parties.
Bu Young Kim and her husband, Chan Hui Cho, were running the illegal operation from Jan. 1, 2014 to March 24, 2016, when they were both arrested.
Federal agents with the Homeland Security Investigations say the couple traveled to Korea to pick up the drugs and bring them back to Hawaii to dispense, pitching the products as substances that would minimize the appearance of wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Federal agents say the couple were not licensed to and the products were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Customs and Border Patrol Agents first detained Kim in 2015 for having a large amount of vials and medical supplies as she was coming in from Korea in 2015. The items had Korean writing on them and it took weeks before the FDA was able to identify the product.
"It was unusual because the bottles were not labeled in English, some of them didn't even have labels," HSI Special Agent In Charge Joanna Ip said.
It was similar to Botox but not allowed in the United States.
Packages intercepted by federal authorities and raids at apartments in both Hawaii and New York netted thousands of vials, creams, anti-wrinkle treatments, and $170,000 in cash.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson said this case was eye opening.
"We were initially surprised. The conduct was something we had not seen before. You can understand it happening on a small scale but this was a much larger scale than we had seen before," he said.
Federal agents said the couple would provide cosmetic procedures charging clients anywhere from $100 to $500 for injections. They would host Botox parties at hotels, including the Pagoda Hotel.
"Fake Botox or Botox-like substances that are not approved by the FDA can have adverse side effects," Ip said.
Two people suffered permanent nerve damage after injections. The substance started to clump around their eyes.
Michael Green, Kim's attorney, says she was doing it in Korea and didn't realize the magnitude of her crimes.
"She didn't set out to hurt anyone. This is what she knew and she wound up getting arrested for it."
He says his client cooperated with authorities from the beginning and deserved leniency for admitting guilt early on.
She faced up to 18 months in prison, but her behavior convinced a federal judge to knock down the sentence to three months. Her husband, Cho, got a two-month prison sentence. Both will then be on house arrest.
After release, Kim will return to Korea, where she will care for her mother.
Cho will go back to New York, where his family currently lives and owns a store in Manhattan.
Federal agents do believe there are more of these large scale, underground operations in Hawaii, and say they now know what to look for.