A Woodbury man has pleaded guilty to stealing the identities of more than 300 people, nearly all of them donors to the charity where he worked. He used the information to steal money to repay ill-gotten unemployment benefits and his daughter’s private school tuition, according to the criminal complaint.
Hai Jay Phu Vu, 53, pleaded guilty Monday in Washington County District Court to identity theft and falsely collecting unemployment benefits. Sentencing is set for Sept. 17.
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, has said “the great bulk” of the victims were donors, and the grand total lost remains under investigation.
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.
Vu was fired from the charity in February 2017 for disciplinary reasons, then applied for 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 had 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 said.
In December, a 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.
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.
In a statement Tuesday, House of Charity thanked officials for bringing Vu to justice, calling the crimes “especially heinous” as they targeted an organization whose mission includes feeding and housing those in need.
The nonprofit was founded on Nicollet Island in the early 1950s and has moved around downtown. It has been at 510 S. 8th St. since 1976.