Lee Byung-hun in the critically acclaimed Korean gangster film, "A Bittersweet Life." An American version is now in production. (B.O.M. Film Productions/C.J. Entertainment)

Every so often, a crime story pops up out of the Korean community in Annandale that just makes your jaw drop. In 2008, there was the massive cigarette ring and counterfeit sweatshop on Backlick Road. More recently there was the full service brothel on Backlick. And now comes perhaps the wildest of all: the story of Han Sa Yu, known around Annandale as “Thunder” and the leader of the ”Korean Night Breeders” gang. Their pattern of intimidation and outright terror apparently existed for more than six years and sounds like a stereotype of gangsters in a kung fu movie. In fact, Yu modeled his thug outfit after Asian organized crime syndicates, federal prosecutors in Alexandria said.

Yu, 44 and a legal permanent resident, pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to commit extortion, and on Friday he was sentenced in federal court in Alexandria to 17 1/2 years in prison and ordered to repay his victims nearly $100,000. Yu and his gang dressed in black suits “to project an image of fierceness and danger to ensure compliance with their demands,” federal prosecutors wrote in one brief. Sometimes as many as 20 Night Breeders “would surround a victim when extorting money.”

They targeted dozens of Korean businesses, including restaurants, cafes and taxi businesses, demanding thousands of dollars in “tax” or “protection” money every month. Those who refused, or were late, were sometimes beaten or their families threatened. One man told federal investigators he paid Yu about $30,000 over five years, and that he had suffered at least one severe beating.

Yu was arrested 18 times on various state charges, including extortion and threatening to burn, but rarely convicted, which was “further testimony to his reign of terror,” federal prosecutors wrote. “Victims and witnesses were too fearful to testify against the defendant,” and even after he was jailed in the current case, he asked a friend “to intimidate witnesses and ensure that they did not testify. After these machinations were thwarted, the defendant agreed to plead guilty.”

After the guilty plea, and Yu’s cooperation with investigators, his lawyer Gary H. Smith sought a sentence of 27 to 33 months. Smith noted that a number of Yu’s victims were “doumi” operators, men who provided young women to sing, flirt and perhaps otherwise engage with men in bars and karaoke clubs.

“Individuals who violate the law can truly be described as authors of their own misfortune,” Smith argued, and should not be considered vulnerable victims of crime. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Frank and Marc Birnbaum argued that the recommended sentencing guideline range of 210 to 240 months was more appropriate.

U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris chose 210 months, the low end of the guidelines, but not what Yu’s lawyer was seeking.

The prosecutors noted that for Yu, “crime is his career and he has embraced criminality as his vocation. Indeed, in a text message authored by the defendant, he bragged that he was a ‘professional extortionist,’ that he made ‘enough to get by without working for over 20 years’ and he further boasted that he ‘never worked in my life.’”

Yu did in fact have all the trappings of a professional extortionist, the authorities said. “Sometimes the defendant and his henchmen would show up at random,” Frank and Birnbaum wrote, “just to let victims know that the Korean Night Breeders were watching and could find them at will.” Prosecutors said Yu modeled the gang after Asian organized crime syndicates, held meetings to discuss possible victims, and taught them fighting techniques and extortion protocol.

Victimized businesses included the Honey Pig restaurant, Napoleon Bakery, Cafe Tu Ah, Happi Billiards and Cafe and three dozen more, the case’s Statement of Facts says.

Yu made threatening phone calls to Korean business owners, demanding money. He wielded a handgun in his transactions, court documents show, sold drugs for profit and “extortion proceeds were sometimes used to purchase crack cocaine and marijuana for consumption by Yu and other members of the Korean Night Breeders,” the Statement of Facts signed by Yu states.

One of his thugs once walked into a restaurant, began swinging a metallic baton and said, “It’s better to pay now than to have Thunder come here,” the court papers state.

Black-clad henchmen. Extortion. Drugs. Violence. Intimidation. Annandale. It once seemed unbelievable that this level of crime was occurring in Northern Virginia. In July 2001, the part owner of a Korean club in Annandale, Ho Young Park, was apparently followed home and beaten to death in his driveway in Centreville. That case was never solved. Now, it merely sounds like part of a pattern perpetuated by men like “Thunder” Yu.