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Fugitive hedge fund manager pleads guilty

By Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hedge fund manager Brian Kim, who had appeared on CNBC television as a derivatives expert, pleaded guilty in New York state court on Friday to running a $6 million Ponzi scheme and will be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Kim, 36, who founded the now-defunct Liquid Capital Management, created fake monthly statements for investors showing account balances with inflated gains, prosecutors said.

Kim, a fugitive who was brought to New York in October after fleeing to Hong Kong 10 months earlier, also pleaded guilty to bail jumping and to stealing $435,000 from his Manhattan condominium.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office said that while Kim claimed he was an accomplished trader investing in stable securities, he put his clients' money in highly speculative futures contracts that generated huge losses.

Kim, who also is known as "Bu Yung Kim," diverted "vast amounts of money" to himself, prosecutors have said.

"I don't think he ever set out to steal money from people," defense attorney Justin Levine said in a telephone interview after Kim pleaded guilty. "When he realized he was not getting the money from the investments, that led him to take money from the condo board to pay back his investors, so it snowballed."

Kim pleaded guilty to grand larceny, forgery, scheme to defraud, falsifying business records and other charges.

State Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon will order him to serve a five-to-15 year sentence in state prison, according to prosecutors and the defense. Sentencing is set for April 20.

Levine entered guilty pleas on similar charges on behalf of Liquid Capital Management. In April 2011, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission obtained a default judgment order for more than $12 million in restitution and civil penalties. Kim has not paid it, Levine said.

Kim, who was born in New Jersey, graduated from Dartmouth College and went to work in the financial industry, eventually deciding to strike out on his own, Levine said.

Kim also pleaded guilty in December to passport fraud in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. He is scheduled to be sentenced in April on the federal case.

He had surrendered his passport after being charged in the condominium case in 2009. He obtained another one fraudulently by saying his own was lost, according to Levine. Hong Kong officials came to Kim's home there and eventually he was turned over to U.S. authorities.

The cases are People v. Kim, 86/2011, 97/2011, 5965/2009, New York state Supreme Court, and United States v. Brian Kim, 11-cr-00642-CM, U.S. District Court.

(Reporting By Karen Freifeld; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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