Tae H. Kim is an assistant prosecutor in Prince George's County, a post he assumed late last year when he was hired by outgoing State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson.
Kim also has another, somewhat novel, source of potential income, particularly for a law enforcement officer: as an investor in and part-time manager of two topless clubs.
Kim is a part-time manager of the Stardust, a Hyattsville topless club, the ownership of which he said is listed in the names of his wife and sister-in-law. He is also an investor in a topless club, the Mile High, that opened last summer at the end of a dead-end street behind a Clinton strip mall.
Last August, Kim filed a $1 million lawsuit against two partners in that business, claiming they had shut him out of the profits. Kim is representing himself in the matter, a role his opponents' attorney argues is a violation of a state law that says assistant prosecutors "may not engage in the private practice of law."
State's Attorney Glenn Ivey (D) said that he was aware of the lawsuit and that Kim has told him he was seeking to recover his initial $30,000 investment and sever his association with the Mile High. But Ivey said that he was unaware of Kim's ties to the Stardust and that he would encourage him to persuade his family to end their involvement.
"I don't like the fact that we have an assistant state's attorney who has a business interest in this type of club. There's some major appearance issues with it," Ivey said. "There are a lot of people who don't think strip clubs are appropriate."
Kim said that his financial interest in the topless clubs predated his hiring as an assistant state's attorney and that he did not tell Johnson or Johnson's aides of his involvement during their discussions about him joining the office.
Asked if it was appropriate for an assistant state's attorney to be involved in the adult entertainment business, Kim said, "It's for other people to decide.''
Johnson, a Democrat, said he was unaware of Kim's business interests when he hired him in November, shortly before he was sworn in as county executive. "In every interview we ask, 'Is there anything we need to know about?' " Johnson said. "If he had told me, I would not have hired him."
Prince George's officials have become increasingly concerned about the number of strip clubs in the county, as well as bars that illegally offer exotic dancing. A survey by county inspectors last year found 15 illegal topless clubs. Seven are licensed.
"It seems like people are coming from all over to open these up," said Norma Lindsay, chief liquor inspector for the county's Board of License Commissioners.
Now a state lawmaker is seeking to rein in the industry, proposing legislation that would add Prince George's to a list of 17 Maryland counties that prohibit exotic dancing in establishments with liquor licenses. The House of Delegates is to vote on the measure this week.
"I'm not trying to regulate anybody's morals . . . but my personal opinion is it's a disgrace in Prince George's County," said Del. Mary A. Conroy (D-Prince George's), who sponsored the bill at the request of the licensing board.
Kim, 30, who lives in Columbia and earned a law degree at the University of Baltimore, said in a telephone interview that he and his brother Sung "Brian" Kim became interested in taking over the Stardust two years ago after learning that the club was for sale.
"We were looking to get into a business," Kim said. "It was a little unnerving at first, but we got over it."
Kim said that his brother is primarily responsible for operating the club, which is difficult to miss with its bright neon sign at the busy intersection of Annapolis Road and East West Highway. Kim said he manages the club most Saturday nights, often working from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.
His responsibilities, he said, include monitoring whether the dancers show up on time and "making sure everything goes straight, making sure we don't get robbed, making sure everything runs smoothly."
In the early months of 2002, Kim said that Issa Khoury, whom he and his brother got to know at the Stardust, invited them to go in on another venture: leasing a one-time crab house in Clinton and transforming it into a topless club.
Kim, his brother, Khoury, Khoury's sister Mary, and another partner each invested $30,000. But the partnership was soon beset by feuding when it fell behind on the rent.
In a breach-of-contract lawsuit Kim filed last August in Prince George's Circuit Court, he alleged that Khoury's sister struck a deal with the property's landlord to operate the club on her own. "They shut us out and didn't return our money," Kim said. "I'm just trying to get my money back."
Brian Markovitz, an attorney for the Khourys, said that the partnership dissolved when the investors fell behind on the rent. "The investors defaulted, they couldn't keep the business going," Markovitz said.
Markovitz is seeking to bar Kim from representing himself, arguing in a motion filed last month that state law prohibits assistant state's attorneys from appearing on behalf of an outside interest. Ivey said he would leave it to the judge hearing the case to rule on the motion.
About the same time that he entered the Mile High partnership, Kim sought work in the state's attorney's office. He said he was encouraged to apply by Nam K. Kim (no relation), a member of the Board of License Commissioners who contributed $3,300 to Johnson's campaign for county executive. Nam Kim said he became familiar with Tae Kim through their affiliation with the Prince George's Korean Chamber of Commerce, and that he wrote a recommendation to Johnson for Kim.
After Johnson won the Democratic primary Sept. 10 and appeared certain to become county executive, he hired Kim. Kim, assigned to the District Court division, earns about $45,000, according a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.
Ivey, who was on his way to becoming the next state's attorney, said he questioned Johnson about the hiring of Kim at the time, saying personnel decisions should await the new administration.
But Johnson insisted that he was free to run the office as long as he was in the job. "I was the state's attorney," Johnson said.
Johnson said he did not recall whether Nam Kim's recommendation was a factor in his decision to hire Tae Kim. But he said that he generally gets letters and phone calls on behalf of job applicants. He said that he decided to hire Kim, in part to maintain racial diversity on the staff.
Kim is not the first assistant prosecutor in Prince George's with an interest in the adult entertainment industry. Two years ago Roland Lee, who also worked for Johnson, was a partner in a group seeking to open a strip club in the District. Lee resigned after his involvement in the partnership was revealed in a newspaper article.
"I asked him to resign," Johnson said. "He left the same day."
Staff writer Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.