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DA's office refuses to prosecute local sex crime case

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By Carol A. Clark

The District Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute Joongdae Cha, whom Los Alamos Police charged Aug. 22 with eight felony sex crimes involving a female child under 13 a Los Alamos Police Department spokesperson said.

Cha is charged with four counts of criminal sexual penetration with a minor under the age of 13, each count a first-degree felony. He also is charged with four counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor under the age of 13, each of which are second-degree felonies.

“This is a disappointing situation,” said LAPD Det. Shari Mills who lead the Cha investigation. “I wish the DA’s office would have at least granted an enlargement of the 10-day time limit to allow them more time to prepare their case. We’ve sent other cases to the DA’s office and I’m hoping they’ll convene a grand jury on those.”

Calls to Chief Deputy District Attorney Shari Weinstein in the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Santa Fe were not returned.

Cha, 48, managed Lemon Grass Restaurant in Central Park Square and had been living in White Rock at the time of his arrest. After placing him in jail, Mills contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and found he was in the United States illegally.

Det. Sgt. DeWayne Williams contacted the International Criminal Police Organization, INTERPOL, about Cha. INTERPOL is the world’s largest police organization and is designed to assist law enforcement agencies in each of its 186 member countries to combat all forms of transnational crime. They informed Williams that Cha had outstanding warrants in Korea.

The warrants are for offenses including fraud, DWI and labor law violations, Mills said.

As soon as the LAPD received the DA’s notice that the office wasn’t going to prosecute the local case, Mills contacted ICE, which had placed a detainer on Cha for his illegal immigrant status.

ICE picked him up from the Los Alamos County Correctional facility Sept. 8. He is being held in El Paso in an immigration camp and is scheduled to face an immigration judge, Mills said.

The judge will determine whether to deport Cha. Mills explained if he is deported to Korea, Cha will be turned over to Korean authorities upon arrival.

Cha was arrested last month while en route to his home after playing a round of golf.

Attorney Spence Pacheco won the race for district attorney in the June primary. Since the field consisted solely of Democrats, she is presumed to be elected Nov. 4 to replace retiring District Attorney Henry Valdez. During her campaign, Spence said she wants to help Los Alamos prosecute more cases.

Pacheco is currently the Española city attorney and said Monday she is not familiar with the Cha case. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment because I’m not the district attorney at this time,” she said.