A Woodbury man has been charged with stealing the identities of more than 300 people, nearly all of them donors to the charity where he worked, then using the information to steal money to repay ill-gotten unemployment benefits and his daughter’s private school tuition.
Hai Jay Phu Vu, 53, was charged Wednesday in Washington County District Court with identity theft and falsely collecting unemployment benefits. Vu appeared in court Thursday and remains jailed in lieu of $150,000 bail with conditions. Court records do not list an attorney for him.
“We have found that the frequency of identity theft is greatly increasing,” said County Attorney Pete Orput. “It is important for us all to guard our personal information zealously. The potential fallout in failing to do so can be economically disastrous for the victims.”
The criminal complaint did not specify the amount of money that Vu allegedly stole from donors to House of Charity, a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis, but the identity theft count included a figure of more than $35,000.
Fred Fink, criminal division chief for the County Attorney’s Office, said “the great bulk” of the victims were donors, and the grand total of their losses remains under investigation.
Vu was fired in February 2017 for disciplinary reasons, then applied and received more than $11,000 in unemployment benefits over the next several months by contending he had been laid off and by failing to report that he found a new job, the complaint continued.
After state officials detected that he was being overpaid for previous unemployment claims, he used a donor’s bank account to repay nearly $900, the charges read. The bank reversed the payment after deciding it was unauthorized. He tried to make the same repayment several more times, and each was similarly blocked, the charges continued.
A state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator reviewed bank records of some of the victims and saw additional unauthorized transactions, the complaint said.
In December, a law enforcement search of Vu’s home turned up items pointing to more than 300 identity theft victims, the charges read, such as credit reports, rental applications, copies of checks, electronic banking information, credit cards, service and utility bills, bank statements and a birth certificate.
Vu allegedly used the stolen identities to pay for insurance, a Verizon bill and his daughter’s tuition at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minn., among other things.
At the time he was charged, Vu was on probation for a 2014 theft conviction in Washington County. His criminal history in Minnesota also includes convictions for check forgery, violating a restraining order, disorderly conduct and domestic assault.
House of Charity was founded on Nicollet Island in the early 1950s and has moved around downtown over the years. It has been at its current location, 510 S. 8th St., since 1976. Services include providing meals, transitional and long-term housing, and chemical and mental health treatment.