By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee on Monday pleaded not guilty to a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from a confrontation with a panhandler that police say ended with Lee hitting the man with a tire iron.
In another development at the court hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra allowed Young to return to his native South Korea later this month for a visit, but required him to turn in his passport after his return.
Young, a kick boxer-turned-architect who along with entrepreneur Shelly Hwang founded frozen yogurt chain Pinkberry in 2005, was arrested two weeks ago after arriving in Los Angeles on a flight from South Korea.
Pinkberry officials have previously said Young is no longer involved in the company's operations. Shelly Hwang is still a board member of the company, which counts Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz as a board member.
Prosecutors say that in a June 2011 confrontation with the homeless man, Young got out of a Range Rover at an off-ramp from a Los Angeles freeway and used a tire iron to beat the panhandler.
Young apparently believed the panhandler, who had been asking passing motorists for money, had disrespected him by exposing a sexually explicit tattoo, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.
The homeless man suffered a broken left forearm and cuts to his head, prosecutors said.
Young's attorney, Philip Kent Cohen, could not be reached for comment. Young, 47, is free on bail of $60,000
Young was trained at Parson The New School for Design in New York, and he was instrumental in creating the company's sleek, modern architecture style which helped attract celebrities and hipsters alike to its shops.
A representative for Pinkberry, which has over 170 locations around the world, could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The judge set another court hearing for March 5 in the case.
(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Thomasch)