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Business Partner Arrested in Missing Surfer’s Death

Two men were arrested this week in connection with the disappearance and murder of Laguna Beach surfer and business executive Christopher Ryan Smith, who was last seen more than a year ago.

 

Prosecutors allege that Smith was killed last June by Edward Younghoon Shin, who wanted control of the company they co-founded but balked at paying $1 million to buyout his partner.

 

After 11 days under surveillance by sheriff’s investigators, Shin, 33, Irvine, was arrested by deputies at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, aboard a plane departing for Canada from Los Angeles. After a six-hour interview, Shin reportedly confessed to murdering Smith for financial gain, a sheriff’s spokesman said.

Shin was charged with one felony count of special circumstances murder for financial gain and faces a sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole. He was held without bail and an arraignment was postponed until Sept. 8. His attorney, John D. Barnett, of Orange, could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

An alleged accomplice, Ken Roy Kraft, 34, of Laguna Niguel, was arrested Tuesday, charged with aiding Shin avoid arrest, according to a complaint filed by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. He entered a not guilty plea at a court arraignment Tuesday. Bail was set at $100,000.

 

Kraft, a personal assistant and driver for Shin, allegedly helped dispose of some of Smith’s personal belongings, including clothes, other items that were not disclosed and a white Range Rover recovered in San Jose, sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino said.

 

Kenneth Kraft

Smith, 32, was an avid surfer who once had a professional wakeboarding career and was a native of Watsonville, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported. He was last seen alive in June 2010, police said, though his body has not been found. On May 11, 2010, court records show he attended traffic school for making an illegal left turn from Aliso Beach.

 

Lydia V. Watters, a longtime owner in the Solana Way condo complex where Smith was a tenant, recalled a mannerly neighbor with an East Coast vibe, who drove a succession of high-end cars and seemed to share the first-level space with an Asian-looking “surf dude” who was always carrying boards and didn’t drive.

 

Sheriff’s deputies say Shin and Smith were business partners in 800 Exchange, which developed media leads for advertisers. Records at the Secretary of State’s office show the privately held business was incorporated in December 2009. Less than a year after the company’s incorporation, Smith apparently decided to extricate himself from the operation, but wanted $1 million for his ownership interest. The proposed buyout deal caused discord between the partners. Prosecutors allege that rather than meet the demand, Shin killed his partner in their San Juan Capistrano office and later produced documents with a phony signature that purported to relinquish Smith’s stake to his partner. “The $1 million was the stumbling block,” Amormino said. “He didn’t want to pay him.”

 

To conceal the crime, prosecutors say the office was cleaned and repainted and Smith’s email account  “high-jacked” by Shin, who kept Smith’s disappearance from his family for months by sending a charade of messages that described his extended travel overseas.

 

Edward Shin

The victim’s parents eventually became suspicious, hired a private investigator and filed a missing persons report on April 11 with the Laguna Beach police. One of their online appeals for information about a missing surfer contained what was supposedly Smith’s last email message, dated Dec. 17, 2010, saying he would be offline for several weeks and was going sand surfing in South Africa.

 

“We determined within three months this was more likely a homicide,” said police Lt. Jason Kravetz. Investigators served a search warrant at the closed and vacant 800 Exchange office on Rancho Viejo Road and obtained blood samples, which were confirmed through DNA to be that of Smith, Kravetz said.

 

Smith and Shin were colleagues who had worked together at another company, Kravetz said. Shin also previously had been convicted of embezzlement at a Riverside County company and was ordered to pay $700,000 in restitution, the sheriff’s department disclosed.

 

Anyone with additional information about the case is asked to contact investigator Randy Litwin at (714) 347-8492 or the OCSD Homicide Unit at (714) 647-7048.

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