True Blood 22 gang members and associates racked up burglary and auto theft charges in recent years as their ranks grew, making them one of the largest Hmong gangs in St. Paul.
Police knew, however, that they had a reputation for violence and carrying guns. And, in October the gang's alleged founder, Thai Yang, was arrested on suspicion of firing eight shots into a group of rivals, wounding one person in the arm.
The following month, police said, nine of the gang's alleged members and associates plied a 14-year-old girl with alcohol, dragged her into a vacant house, held her down and sexually assaulted her.
The violence drew the attention of the public and increased the information flowing to police.
"It's caused awareness," said St. Paul officer Yileng Vang, a gang investigator.
Five men and four juveniles each were charged last month in Ramsey County District Court with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, conspiracy to commit first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and committing a crime for the benefit of a gang.
One defendant told police a similar incident had occurred at least once before.
Glimpses of the gang and founder
Court and police documents provide a glimpse into the troubled lives of some of the TB22 members, including its founder. A 2010 memorandum in a damage to property case against Yang said, "In his [presentence investigation] interview, [Yang] acknowledged active gang membership, stating that he is the founder of the True Blood 22 gang."
Yang, 22, was born in Thailand and lived in refugee camps until his family came to the United States in 1992.
As a youngster, Yang was active in soccer, tennis and the Boy Scouts, his attorney wrote in a motion dated Jan. 19.
He's a high school graduate and wanted to study graphic design in college, according to the attorney's argument for a lighter sentence in the shooting.
But police records also describe a family life where guns and violence were common. The Yang household was tumultuous. In July 2010, Yang's younger brother pulled a handgun and aimed it at their parents because they lectured him for losing his phone.
"I will kill you both," said the brother, now 20.
Yang jumped between them.
"Don't kill my dad," Yang said.
But Yang defied his parents, too. Police reports show that a search warrant executed at the family's house in the Thomas-Dale neighborhood in December 2010 yielded two handguns from under Yang's bed, two rifles hidden under attic insulation and four ammunition magazines. The ammunition and one rifle had been stolen from a federal fish and wildlife officer.
A bulletproof vest hung next to Yang's bed.
Fourteen officers from six agencies participated in the search while investigating several burglaries that stretched from Lakeville to Hugo and Minneapolis to Stillwater.
Former member speaks out
Former TB22 member Jesse Lor, 19, said the gang was formed by friends who were picked on by other gangs.
Police said the group draws from other gangs with "Blood" in their names, with some members moving fluidly between them.
Police have said TB22's membership numbers from 30 to 40, putting it among the second- or third-largest Hmong gang in St. Paul. Lor said it's closer to 20.
The gang color is red and can be displayed subtly with red belts or shoelaces. When it's blatant -- all red clothing -- trouble's brewing.
"If they're going to fight, they go home and get all geared up," said Vang, the gang investigator.
Lor, who confirmed that Yang founded the gang, said he served time for burglary at Boys Totem Town, a correctional facility for juveniles. He left the gang upon his release.
"I do feel a lot of regret being in a gang," he said, adding that, while he was in detention, his dad hung himself, partly because of his son's gang affiliation.
In prison but still in charge
Officer Vang said Yang influences members and associates via phone from his Rush City prison cell, where he's serving a sentence of nearly three years after being convicted in January of two counts of second-degree assault in the October shooting.
The alleged rape may have diminished TB22's street cred, because such attacks don't inspire fear or respect among other gangs.
"There's some face devaluation," Vang said.
Said Lor: "It makes them ... look bad."
Reached in prison on Wednesday, Yang declined to comment.
Many of the adult suspects in the rape case have a history of theft, receiving stolen property and burglary. The records of four juveniles charged in the case are not available.
Charged are: Kong M. Vang, 38; Vang Tou Ger Vue, 19; Mang Yang, 24; Michell T. Yang, 22; and Vanchai Xiong, 18.
The juveniles are Jim Her, 17; Shaileng Lor, 17; and Xou Yang, 16. One juvenile was not named because he was 15 at the time.
Mang Yang also was charged March 30 with fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly groping a 16-year-old girl under her shirt at a house party earlier this month.
"He also admitted that he tried to pull her pants down," the complaint said.
Chao Xiong 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib