Cha Vang allegedly took $160,000 from would-be Minnesota investors and promised them profits in an international gold-selling scheme. Then, he disappeared overseas.
The alleged crime hit some in the Hmong community hard — Vang is the son of legendary Hmong leader Gen. Vang Pao, who commanded tens of thousands of Hmong forces who fought in the U.S. CIA’s “secret war” during the Vietnam War.
“Before this, I looked up to him,” said community member Leah Vang. “I respected him because he’s General Vang Pao’s son. After this happened — I can’t even describe it.”
Authorities said Vang continued to dupe his victims until Minnesota authorities, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Thai officials got involved, extraditing him from abroad last month to face charges in Minnesota.
Vang, 53, was charged in January with one count of felony theft by swindle in Dakota County District Court while still living overseas. He was booked into the county jail May 16, and was released after posting $100,000 bail May 23.
Vang could not be reached for comment, and his attorney did not return messages.
Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom said the amount in question is higher than most cases charged in his jurisdiction in the last several years.
“The loss in the crime alleged here is a significant sum, which we will seek restitution for if we are successful with our prosecution,” Backstrom said.
According to the criminal complaint and Backstrom’s office: Mendota Heights police took a report in November 2017 from two victims who said Vang stole their money between February and September of 2016.
The case was referred to the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The victims told authorities they were introduced to Vang around 2013. He allegedly propositioned them with a gold-selling endeavor in February 2016, and took their money a month later.
“Vang stated that he had connections to the Thai government and that his wife was a close relative to the Thai king,” the complaint said. “Vang proposed that due to his connections to the royal family he could purchase gold through a company known as Globlex in Thailand and make a 10% profit.”
Vang allegedly told the victims he would buy gold several times a week and resell it to jewelers at a markup.
One of the victims traveled to Thailand in May of 2016 and met with Vang, who allegedly took the victim to the Globlex building.
Vang allegedly told the victims there were initial roadblocks in his efforts, but sent them updates.
In August of 2016, Vang sent the victims a check and the check bounced, the complaint said. When the victims returned to Thailand to retrieve their money, Vang said a jeweler had it in a vault, according to the complaint.
A Thai Foreign Service National Investigator contacted by Minnesota authorities interviewed a Globlex official, who said Vang’s wife opened an account with the company in 2016 with $6,000.
The vice president allegedly told authorities that one order for two kilograms of gold was placed, but no money was deposited for the transaction and no other purchases were made, the complaint said.
The Thai agent also determined that Vang’s wife was not related to Thai royalty.
Authorities found that Vang was last issued a Minnesota driver’s license in 2013, and that he had left the United States on Nov. 23, 2015, bound for a Taiwan airport.
Backstrom said none of the victims’ money has been recovered, and it’s unknown how Vang used the funds.
The state Commerce Department declined to comment on the case; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not return a message seeking comment.
Community member Johnny Lee said even though younger generations don’t venerate Vang Pao or his son as their parents might, the case is a black eye to the community.
“It’s unfortunate, because he comes from a pretty well-known family,” Lee said. “It’s definitely a big deal.”
Vang was a ubiquitous figure at his father’s side, accompanying him to community events until his death in 2011. He carved out a role for himself as his father’s translator, confidant and stand-in, setting himself apart from the general’s several other children.
While Vang Pao has his detractors and had his own share of controversies, many in the Hmong community credit him with paving the way for Hmong refugees to settle in the United States, making this case more painful.
The general oversaw Hmong soldiers in a U.S.-led secret army during the Vietnam War, fighting against Communist forces in Laos, which was home to many Hmong and the North Vietnamese army’s Ho Chi Minh Trail that funneled supplies south.
“His impact is negative to the Hmong,” Txongpao Lee, executive director of the Hmong Cultural Center, said of the allegations against Vang. “Our Hmong hoped that after the general died, Cha would carry the general’s mission.”
Vang is no stranger to trouble. In 2005, Attorney General Mike Hatch made Vang refund $32,375 collected by his father’s namesake organization, the Vang Pao Foundation, that was meant to go toward low-income housing.