A Woodbury man who stole the identities of more than 300 people — most of them donors to the charity where he worked — has been ordered to pay restitution of more than $772,000.
Hai Jay Phu Vu, 54, pleaded guilty in July to identity theft and falsely collecting unemployment benefits. He was sentenced in September to six and a half years in prison, and ordered Friday to pay statutory restitution.
"Identity theft has become a pernicious plague," said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput.
Vu started working as an accountant at the House of Charity, a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis, in July 2014. He was dismissed in February 2017 for disciplinary reasons.
He then applied for unemployment benefits, falsely claiming that he'd been laid off without severance payments that would have disqualified him from receiving unemployment benefits.
When receiving unemployment, Vu also neglected to disclose that he had started a new job in June 2017. He was terminated a month later when the company realized that he'd lied on his application.
Between March and September 2017, Vu received more than $11,400 in unemployment benefits, none of which he was entitled to get, according to the criminal complaint.
After state officials in March 2017 flagged his account for the unwarranted unemployment payments, Vu used a donor's bank account to repay $885, the complaint said. That payment, made in March 2017, was not authorized by the account holder and later reversed by the bank.
Over the next five months of 2017, Vu tried four more times to make the same repayment using other bank accounts, all belonging to donors to the House of Charity, where he'd had access to their information. Those payments also were later reversed by the banks.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reviewed the accounts of each of those five victims and identified more unauthorized debits, including payments to an insurance company, a cellphone company and to Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Fairbault, a private school that Vu's daughter attended.
In December 2017, a search of Vu's home uncovered items relating to more than 300 victims of identity theft, including checks, credit cards, utility bills, a birth certificate and a pharmacy prescription. An investigation showed that Vu had been using bank routing and account numbers from many victims to pay credit card bills and tuition at Shattuck-St. Mary's.
When he was charged, Vu was on probation for a 2014 theft conviction in Washington County. His criminal history in Minnesota includes convictions for check forgery, violating a restraining order, disorderly conduct and domestic assault.
In a statement given to the Star Tribune in July after Vu pleaded guilty to the charges, House of Charity called Vu's crime "especially heinous" for targeting an organization that aims to feed and house those in need.
Orput said the holiday season calls for added vigilance against identity theft, which includes protecting documents such as driver's licenses, credit cards, Social Security numbers and bank account information.