Members of Minnesota's first Korean church filed a lawsuit against its pastor accusing him of illegally living in the northeast Minneapolis church with his wife and refusing to leave despite more than a dozen members of the small congregation voting to terminate him.
Instead, senior members of MN Korean Church of Christ Grace say that Wanpyo Hong won't step down, still lives in the church and has allegedly carried out other illegal activity, such as unauthorized applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans and unapproved expenses from the church's bank accounts. Members say that when they raised concerns, Hong physically assaulted them.
Church board members voted to terminate Hong in November 2021. In response, Hong "waged an aggressive campaign to unlawfully terminate the membership and officer positions of all who opposed him," according to the lawsuit filed in Hennepin County District Court.
In response, Hong filed a flurry of other litigation, including harassment restraining orders against three members now banned from attending services, and a lawsuit against six members to exclude them from worshiping.
Chris Boline and Stephanie Huisman, with Minneapolis law firm Felhaber Larson, represent 13 church members in the lawsuit. They declined to comment. Hong is represented by his son, Sung Woo Hong, who recently graduated from law school and began working at Trott Law in St. Paul at the time litigation commenced.
Sung Woo Hong did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the lawsuit:
The church, at 3665 Tyler St. NE., has a congregation of about 20 members and the most senior members first joined the church back in the early 1980s.
The church searched for a new pastor in 2018 and connected with Hong, who was living in South Korea at the time. Members voted to hire him January 2019.
Hong and his wife, Youngran Kim, did not have a place to live upon arriving in Minnesota and members said they could not live at the church. But Hong pleaded to allow them to reside there for 60 days until they found housing.
Hong terminated a revenue-producing lease on the church's property with the Men's and Women's Missionary to then convert it into his residence.
The Hongs still live there and members accuse them of trespassing.
Accusations of other financial wrongdoings include unauthorized expenses from the church's bank account that Hong refused to provide receipts for, and unauthorized application for PPP loans from Falcon National Bank on behalf of the church.
The church received nearly $9,000 in PPP loans. Later, his wife purchased refrigerators and vacuums that she told a member she sent as gifts to relatives in South Korea. When this was made known to members, Hong was angry for "not keeping the secret."
Members also told Hong that his son should not be involved in the church's finances.
In October 2021, Hong met with treasurer Yong Woo Jang, who wanted to discuss proper use of the church debit card and checking account. But Hong "became angry ... yelled at him, grabbed him and shook him. During the altercation, Hong ripped Jang's clothing and caused bruising on his neck."
That same day another senior member, Young Ae Kim, wanted to go over financial irregularities with unapproved expenses and Hong "grabbed her and pushed her against a wall in the church so that she could not move away from him, and he shook her and yelled at her so close to her face that his nose almost touched hers. ... Kim screamed at Hong to get away from her and he only did after others intervened."
Hong has since appointed his son as treasurer. He also is accused of removing the two authorized signors on the church's bank account to make him the sole signatory.
Members seek at least $50,000 in damages and to recoup all funds and property improperly diverted and received by the Hongs. The lawsuit asks for an injunction that prohibits the Hongs from interfering with church property and transferring the title.
They want the Hongs removed from illegally occupying the church's property and hold the pastor responsible for breach of his fiduciary duties. They seek to ratify his termination, void his unlawful termination of members and "ensure that the church members can safely worship at the church."