Michael Sangbong Rhee

Man accused of attempted sexual assault in response to anti-Asian crimes

Michael Sangbong Rhee, 37, of Lake Forest, allegedly targeted the woman while she was sitting in her car in the area of Harvard Avenue and Coronado Street around 1:30 p.m. on April 8.

Rhee, armed with a handgun, first ordered the woman to get in the back of the car if she wanted to live, Irvine police said. The victim offered her wallet and money, but Rhee replied they would “do that later”.

Rhee opened the rear passenger door and pushed the woman onto the backseat. After that he sexually assaulted her in the ensuing struggle, police said.

The victim managed to shout to a nearby maintenance worker. This forced Rhee to run through an apartment community and escape with his vehicle.

Surveillance cameras caught Rhee’s license plate. Officers tracked him to his home in Lake Forest — where they discovered more evidence — and arrested him Thursday night.

Rhee was booked at the Orange County jail for kidnapping with the aim to carry out a sexual assault. His bail costs $1 million.

Based on the investigation and Rhee’s own statements, detectives are of the view that he targeted the woman because he thought she was white. They also believe the assault was committed in retaliation for the rising hate crimes against East Asian Americans.

Now, Rhee is expected to face hate crime charges himself.






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