WASHINGTON -- John Kerry's campaign collected a maximum $2,000 check from the recently arrested son of South Korea's disgraced former president, and some of its fund-raisers met several times with a South Korean government official who was trying to organize a Korean-American political group.
The Kerry campaign said it did not know about the donation from Chun Jae Yong or his background until informed by the Associated Press and will return the money to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
South Korean government officials said a top official in its Los Angeles consulate office returned home last month amid speculation he engaged in Democratic politics, but they say they do not believe laws were broken.
Chun was arrested in February by South Korean authorities on charges of evading taxes on $14 million in inheritance money. His father, former president Chun Dooh Hwan, was convicted in 1997 on bribery charges.
The younger Chun was business partners last year with Rick Yi, one of Kerry's major fund-raisers in the Asian-American community. Yi acknowledged soliciting the donation from Chun last summer before learning of his legal problems.
''I didn't think anything wrong of it," said Yi, who has raised more than $500,000 for Kerry, the Democratic presidential challenger, and Democratic causes. ''If I had known who he was at the time I probably would not have taken the money," he said.
Yi said Chun showed him a Social Security card before making the donation to prove he was a legal US resident allowed to donate to political campaigns. Yi confirmed that while on Kerry fund-raising trips to California he met at least three times with Chung Byung Man, the South Korean government's vice consulate in Los Angeles, and they discussed forming a political group to organize influential Korean-Americans.
Yi said his conversations with Chung never centered on fund-raising, however, he found it odd that a South Korean diplomat was trying to organize an American political group.
Yi said that he and Chung never discussed using the group to help Kerry, and he never solicited donations for Kerry in Chung's presence. But he acknowledged that Chung introduced him to some as one of Kerry's main fund-raisers.
Kerry, meanwhile, spent Father's Day weekend at his wife's five-bedroom waterfront home on Nantucket.
Kerry spokesman David Wade said rather than try to create a less patrician image of the Democratic candidate, ''you've got to let Kerry be Kerry."
''It's a place he and his family have been coming to for years,"Wade said.
Some locals worry that, if elected, Kerry's visits will disrupt life on the increasingly congested island.
Jay Starr, owner of Nantucket's Starr Fish Charters, said the Secret Service shut down a public boat ramp yesterday morning, denying residents access to the water. ''I like the guy, but he's going to lock up the island," Starr said.