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Pinkberry co-founder pleads not guilty to tire iron assault

January 30, 2012 |  1:36 pm

Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee pleaded not guilty Monday to felony assault for allegedly beating a homeless man with a tire iron over a sexually explicit tattoo.

Lee, who remains free on $60,000 bail, was granted a one-time dispensation by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra allowing him to travel to South Korea.

In return, he consented to automatic extradition should he fail to return to court March 5, the date of his next scheduled hearing.

Lee has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a June 2011 assault on a transient on a 101 Freeway off-ramp.

Lee was stopped at a light when he was approached by a man seeking money, Los Angeles police said. Words were exchanged, and Lee and another man in the car chased the homeless man and assaulted him with a tire iron.

The source said detectives believe Lee was angered when the transient revealed the tattoo and that prompted him to get out of his car, chase him down and beat the man.

Philip Kent Cohen, the attorney for Lee, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month the transient "made explicit threats as if he had a weapon, which he may have had."

According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Lee was driving a rented Range Rover on the 101 Freeway in June 2011, with an acquaintance in the passenger seat. When he got off the freeway at Vermont Avenue in East Hollywood, he spotted a transient who had been asking passing drivers for money.

The man was changing into a sweatshirt, revealing a sexually explicit tattoo, and Lee seemed to have viewed the tattoo as a suggestion of disrespect, a police official said. Lee rolled down his window and apparently got into an argument with the man, then parked on Vermont and left his car to confront the man.

Lee demanded that the man kneel and apologize, and the man consented, officials said. But Lee attacked him anyway, chasing him down, kicking him and "beating him down" with a tire iron, LAPD officials said.

A witness called 911 and gave authorities the license plate number of the car that Lee was driving. Investigators later recovered the tire iron through a rental car agency. While detectives worked the case, Lee traveled overseas, spending some of his time in South Korea, authorities said.


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-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Young Lee, one of the founders of the Pinkberry yogurt chain, stands with his attorney Philip Kent Cohen, right, during his arraignment in the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building on Monday. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times