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Pinkberry co-founder charged in homeless attack

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The co-founder of Pinkberry frozen yogurt has been charged with assault for attacking a homeless panhandler with a tire iron after the man flashed a provocative tattoo at him, authorities said on Tuesday.

Young Lee, 47, a kick boxer turned architect, helped create the Los Angeles-based Pinkberry in 2005 and the company has since grown to over 170 locations around the world.

Lee was arrested on Monday at the Los Angeles International Airport after arriving on a flight from South Korea, police said. He is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, causing great bodily harm, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office said.

It was not immediately clear whether Lee has hired a lawyer. Pinkberry said he was no longer involved with the company.

Police said Lee and an unidentified man were in a rented Range Rover at a Los Angeles freeway offramp in June when they encountered a homeless man begging. At that point, Lee and his companion "had words" with the homeless man, police said.

Lee then parked and got out of the vehicle to attack the man, who had exposed a sexually explicit tattoo in a move Lee interpreted as an act of disrespect, prosecutors said.

Lee, wielding a tire iron, beat the man on his head and arm, breaking the man's left forearm and causing cuts to his head, prosecutors said.

The other man who was with Lee has not been arrested, authorities said. The homeless man has not been publicly named.

Lee was identified as one of the suspects when several witnesses who saw the attack gave police the license plate number of the Range Rover, and investigators found that it had been rented in Lee's name, police said.

Lee, who co-founded Pinkberry with restaurant entrepreneur Shelly Hwang, was trained at Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

Pinkberry's sleek, modern architecture helped attract celebrities and hipsters alike to its locations, and the company spawned a number of frozen yogurt imitators.

Pinkberry now has locations in 20 states, from Hawaii to New York, and international locations in the Middle East, Latin America and other parts of the globe.

The company said in a statement that it had "ended its ties" with Lee in May 2010, and that he had "no influence or input into the company."

"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," the Pinkberry statement said.

Lee, who has been released on bail of $60,000, was convicted in 2001 of felony possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor carrying a loaded firearm. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted in the current case, prosecutors said.

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Johnston)

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