Irvine Police Arrest Kidnapping Suspect also Suspected of Committing a Hate Crime

Irvine-(April 9, 2021) – Last night, Irvine Police arrested 37-year-old Michael Sangbong Rhee for kidnapping with the intent to commit a sexual assault against a woman at an apartment complex.

Michael Sangbong Rhee. IRVINE Police

Yesterday afternoon, at approximately 1:30 p.m., an adult female of Asian descent was sitting in the driver’s seat of her vehicle near her apartment in the area of Harvard and Coronado. Her driver side door was open and she looked up to see Rhee standing at the driver’s side door holding a handgun. She did not recognize Rhee and he told her if she wanted to live, she needed to get in the back of her car. The victim offered Rhee her wallet and money and he said they would “do that later.” He then opened the rear passenger door and pushed her onto the backseat. The victim believed she was going to be sexually assaulted or killed and began to look for an opportunity to escape. As she struggled with Rhee, he committed a sexual battery against her. The victim yelled to a maintenance worker nearby that Rhee had a gun. Rhee then exited the vehicle, ran through the apartment community, and got into his vehicle. Surveillance cameras captured his license plate as he was leaving the complex.

The Irvine Police Department (IPD) and the City of Irvine do not tolerate violent crimes against women or hate-related crimes in our community. IPD detectives immediately followed up on the license plate information, which led them to Rhee’s residence in Lake Forest. Rhee was contacted at his home and he was detained. Detectives obtained and served a search warrant and several items were recovered from his home and vehicle linking him to the assault. One of the items collected from the vehicle was a BB gun similar to the weapon described by the victim.

Rhee was arrested late last night and booked at Orange County Jail for kidnapping with the intent to commit a sexual assault. He is being held on $1,000,000 bail.

Based on the totality of the investigation and statements made by Rhee, detectives believe he targeted the victim because he thought she was White. Detectives also believe the assault was retaliation for hate crimes committed against the Asian community. IPD detectives will be adding hate crime charges to the complaint filed with the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

If anyone has any information regarding this case, please contact Detective Haldor Larum at (949) 724-7194 or email hlarum@cityofirvine.org.

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