As one of Pinkberry's co-founders, Young Lee was once known as the man who brought tart frozen yogurt to Los Angeles. Now, as he gears up for arraignment on a felony assault charge, a more complex side of the "crackberry" entrepreneur is emerging -- and it's not all swirly goodness.
A host of drug addictions, rage issues and domestic violence accusations crowd Lee's past. Court documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times reveal that Lee has struggled with cocaine addiction and was once charged with two counts of spousal battery (against a different wife than Pinkberry co-founder Shelly Hwang).
During Pinkberry's most critical growth periods, Lee stayed sober and was able to bring in a $27.5 million investment that sparked the chain's global expansion, notes the LA Times, but a 2009 drug relapse sent Lee spiraling again. Eventually, two people, a "former friend" and a tart yogurt competitor, filed restraining orders after Lee erupted in violent rages and death threats.
In January 2010, Hwang filed for divorce from Lee. Just months afterward, Lee's involvement in the frozen yogurt chain formally ended.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles city attorney's office released more details about the night of the alleged assault. Last year on Jun. 15, Lee was driving with at least one person on Vermont Ave. near the Hollywood freeway offramp. While he was still in the car, a homeless person engaged Lee in conversation and showed him a "sexually explicit" tattoo.
Feeling "disrespected," Lee and another passenger got out of the car and beat the transient with a tire iron. After the altercation, the victim was left with a broken arm and cuts to the head.
The sexually explicit tattoo in question depicted a man and woman having sex, confirms the Los Angeles Times. Officials also told the LA Times that Lee demanded that the homeless man kneel down to apologize before beating him.
Lee's lawyer, Philip Cohen, told NBC Los Angeles that Lee was looking forward to clearing his name in court. In this video interview, Cohen claims that his client didn't commit any crime:
View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.
As the frozen yogurt mogul prepares to face a judge about the assault charge, Pinkberry is taking pains to disassociate itself from its estranged co-founder.
Pinkberry's senior vice-president of marketing and design, Laura Jakobsen, released this statement shortly after Lee's arrest:
Mr. Young Lee has no involvement with Pinkberry, our partners or our more than 170 stores world-wide. Pinkberry ended its ties with Mr. Lee formally on May 1, 2010. He has no influence or input into the company in any way, and the parties have not been in communication with one another since Mr. Lee's exit. While it would be inappropriate for us to speculate on the allegations in question, we can say without hesitation that Pinkberry values the communities we serve and stands against acts of violence of any kind, especially those involving the most vulnerable among us.
Lee is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 6 on a felony count of assault with a deadly weapon with a special allegation that the assault caused great bodily injury. Because of a 2001 felony drug possession conviction and misdemeanor for carrying a loaded firearm, Lee could face seven years in state prison if he's convicted of the assault charge.