The Reverend Sun Myung Moon (center) with Annie Choi (third from the left), Bo Hi Pak (far right), and other church members in front of the Washington Monument in 1965.
Courtesy of How Well Do You Know Your Moon
These revelations struck at the heart of Moon's teachings, and his followers began drifting away. Had Park and Choi gone public at this point, it could have worsened the fallout. Once again, Moon's loyal deputy Bo Hi Pak took steps to protect his leader. In late 1999, he approached Choi and Park with a contract releasing Pak and the Moons from "any and all past, present or future actions," and relinquishing all inheritance claims. The contract also stipulated that the agreement's terms and any "personal differences" would remain confidential, meaning Park and Choi could never speak of their relationship to Moon. In return, Park and his mother would each receive $100.
Park and Choi ultimately signed the deal. They maintain they did so because Moon's then-personal secretary, Peter Kim, promised that Moon-owned entities would pay them $1.5 million, plus $20 million if Park wasn't tapped for a leadership role in the family's business empire upon Moon's retirement. (Through a church representative, Kim declined to comment.) According to court records, over the next several months, Park and Choi each received two lump sum payments totaling $1.5 million from an offshore account with ties to Moon-owned entities.
Up until this point, Choi says Moon had paid her roughly $35,000 a year through the Washington Times—even though she never worked for the paper. (Moon had a history of dubious financial dealings: A 1978 congressional investigation found his organizations "systematically violated US tax, immigration, banking," and currency laws. He also served 18 months in a US prison for tax evasion.) But after the deal was signed she and her son were cut off from the Moon and Pak families. Gradually, they ate through the $1.5 million. Park says they lost about a third of it in the stock market. The rest they spent or gave away. Those who know Park say he was generous, especially to former Moon disciples, many of whom gave everything to the church and wound up destitute. In one case, Park helped to pay for a Unificationist missionary and his family to vacation at Disneyland after his 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.
Bo Hi Pak admitted under oath that he was not Park's father, even though his name is listed on Park's birth certificate. He also claimed to have no idea who Park's father was.
Around 2006, Moon, who was in his 80s, began dividing his business empire up among his children. Two years later, he named his youngest son, Sean, as his spiritual successor. When it became clear that Park would not be tapped for a leadership position, he and his mother began pressing Bo Hi Pak for the additional $20 million they were allegedly promised. Pak moved to have the dispute heard by an arbitrator, based on an arbitration clause in the contract. Park and Choi couldn't afford the arbitration fees, so a friend introduced them to Robert Hirsch. A slight man with scraggly bleached-blond hair and skull-shaped rings studding his fingers, Hirsch was once a high-rolling Manhattan lawyer. But in 1994 he and his partner, Harvey Weinig, were convicted of laundering millions of dollars for Colombian drug cartels, in a scheme involving rabbis, diplomats, and a police officer. (Weinig, who was also found guilty of aiding a kidnapping and extortion scheme, later had his sentence commuted by then-President Bill Clinton.)
Despite Hirsch's tainted past, Park says he and his mother came to trust him and asked him to handle the arbitration. But Hirsch, who had lost his license to practice law, was barred from arguing the case. So the three of them hashed out an agreement: Hirsch would pay all legal expenses, and Park and Choi would sign over the rights to any award or settlement to him, with the verbal understanding that they'd split the money. Hirsch, who now goes by Reuven Ben-Zvi, maintained that this arrangement would allow him to become a party to the case and represent them in the proceedings because litigants in civil cases can represent themselves. But the deal put Park and Choi at the mercy of a convicted felon.
Ultimately, Hirsch and the lawyer he enlisted to assist them, Alisa Lachow-Thurston, failed to file key paperwork or show up to the July 2010 arbitration hearing. Lachlow-Thurston says she was just a "side assistant" and made no decisions about "what to file when and how." Hirsch maintains they chose not to participate after discovering that the arbitrator assigned to the case worked for a law firm that had business ties to the firm representing Bo Hi Pak. "Sam and Annie could continue in the biased arbitration—without me—or they could elect to not further participate in the arbitral proceedings," he says. If they had taken part, Hirsch argues, they would have forfeited their legal rights to "pursue redress in the courts."
Bo Hi Pak traveled from his home in South Korea for the hearing. According to sealed transcripts, which were obtained by Mother Jones, he admitted under oath that he was not Park's father, even though his name is listed on Park's birth certificate. He also claimed to have no idea who Park's father was and said he'd raised him as a favor to Choi. "I was fond of her at that time," he said, "and really want[ed] to help her somehow."
Their Phoenix home is on the brink of foreclosure, and Park is inching toward bankruptcy.
The arbitrator ultimately found the release agreement was valid and rejected Park and Choi's $20 million claim. A county court affirmed the ruling. Alleging Choi and Park had been victims of "theology-based" racketeering, Hirsch appealed in 2011, but the district court refused to hear the case.
The legal battle has taken a heavy emotional toll on both of them, and their financial situation has grown increasingly shaky. Their Phoenix home is on the brink of foreclosure, and Park is inching toward bankruptcy. Whatever the outcome, they are ready to finally leave their painful double lives behind. By going public they also hope they can help other Moon disciples break free from the Unification Church. "So many people sacrificed for the movement, but they didn't really know what they were sacrificing for," Choi says, weeping. "I used to worry about my financial future and about my son's security. But now it's very clear to me: My job is to light the candle—to light a candle so that people can see that the entire movement was built on a lie."