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Gangster Princess Lisette Lee claims innocence

The 'Korean Paris Hilton', in jail for drug smuggling, says she is the hapless victim of blackmail
  • @guyadams

They call her the "Gangster Princess" of Beverly Hills, and whichever way you look at things, the princess bit is certainly true. As to whether she's also a high-powered crook, that's for the courts to decide. Lisette Lee, a 30-year-old socialite and model currently serving six years in prison after being caught running a marijuana-smuggling operation, has filed an appeal against her conviction, claiming she is a victim of blackmail.

The move opens a new chapter in a remarkable story which began in 2010, when Lee was arrested while disembarking from a private jet at an airport in Columbus, Ohio. Police found her assistants carrying 13 suitcases filled with 500lb of highly potent marijuana.

It later emerged that Lee, who claims to be an heir to the Samsung electronics fortune, had for months been flying plane-loads of drugs between Los Angeles and Ohio. On the trips, she posed as a minor celebrity, wearing designer clothes, carrying a lapdog, sometimes describing herself as the "Korean Paris Hilton".

Following her arrest, the US Drug Enforcement Administration told reporters Lee and her associates moved roughly 7,000lb of marijuana between the two cities, making $7m ($4.3m) in profits. When she was handcuffed, she allegedly asked officers, "but what will I wear in jail?"

Lee's tale has transfixed Los Angeles and was recently the subject of an article in Rolling Stone. Last week, Variety reported that Paramount is in the early stages of talks to turn the saga into a Hollywood movie. First, though, Lee will attempt to get out of jail. In appeal documents seen by The Independent on Sunday, she claims her decision to plead guilty at her original trial came after attorneys gave her what she says was bad advice.

In addition, Lee alleges that she embarked on the drug-smuggling flights under duress. David C Garrett, a Hollywood drug dealer who was sentenced to 10 years for his role in the operation, and a second man called "Marco" threatened to harm her loved ones if she did not collaborate, she claims.

"Lee participated in the charter flights out of fear that Garrett and/or 'Marco' would physically harm her, her fiancé, or members of her family," the appeal reads. "As Lee is an Asian heiress, cared for and sheltered her entire life by governesses, advisers, tutors, accountants and bodyguards, she was [not] emotionally equipped to deal with the Garretts and 'Marcos' of the world."

Lee's provenance remains murky. She appears to have been adopted as a child, and claims to be the illegitimate grand-daughter of Samsung founder Byung-Chul Lee. However the firm has denied knowledge of any such connection.

In court, a woman claiming to be Lisette's aunt testified that her biological father is Yoshi Morita, a Japanese businessman, while her mother is Byung-Chul Lee's daughter, Corine. She was allegedly adopted by a Korean couple who emigrated to southern California. Lee was certainly able to enjoy a high-end lifestyle. She owned two Bentleys and a luxury apartment in Beverly Hills, and was known in Rodeo Drive for her expensive shopping habits, and the ferocious manner with which she treated staff.

She often claimed to be a working model or actress, but appears to have existed largely on a private income. In paperwork submitted during her trial last year, she alleged that Mr Morita gave her an allowance of $100,000 per month.

Her appeal also claims she got sucked into the drug-smuggling out of boredom. "Lee participated in the offence because she thought of it as an acting job in which she played a role of lead passenger," it reads. "She also enjoyed getting away from Los Angeles."