Crime

11th man held in alleged Laos plot

An 11th man was arrested Thursday morning at his east-central Fresno home in connection with the plot to overthrow the Laotian government, according to federal authorities and the suspect's wife.

Dang Vang, 48, also known as David Vang, was taken from his home by agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He was arrested on the same charge as the others: violation of the federal Neutrality Act by conspiring to overthrow a foreign government that has peaceful relations with the United States.

Later on Thursday, Vang and the 10 other men were indicted on five counts in federal court in Sacramento.

The other men are: Vang Pao, 77, of Westminster; Harrison Jack, 60, of Woodland; Lo Cha Thao, 34, of Clovis; Lo Thao, 53, of Sacramento; Youa True Vang, 60, of Fresno; Hue Vang, 39, of Fresno; Chong Vang Thao, 53, of Fresno; Seng Vue, 68, of Fresno; Chue Lo, 59, of Stockton; and Nhia Kao Vang, 48, of Rancho Cordova.

Authorities say Dang Vang's role in the coup was to put it on paper. He wrote an "action plan" that summarized the group's plot to destroy government buildings in Laos and assassinate government officials.

According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, Vang admitted Thursday that he is the author of the plan.

The 19-page document includes a cover sheet that describes the plan as "Operation Popcorn," an apparent reference to POP, the acronym for Laos' Political Opposition Party, according to federal court documents.

The cover also states that it is a "Top Secret" document prepared by David Vang.

In great detail, the plan -- estimated to cost $27.9 million -- describes that the group wanted to topple the communist regime, form a transitional government and hold a free election to create a permanent government.

Vang has a background as a writer; he formerly wrote grant proposals for nonprofit organizations in the Laotian community, said his wife, Chong Yang.

Vang told an ATF agent that he was supposed to get $5,000 for the work, but had not received the money, the complaint alleges.

He also admitted that he met with several of the other suspects in the case, including Gen. Vang Pao, who is widely considered the leader of the Hmong community in the United States, the documents state.

Vang Pao led Hmong forces during the Vietnam War and has helped thousands to resettle in the United States.

Yang, Vang's wife of 24 years, said about six ATF agents woke up the couple at 6:30 a.m. and stayed until 11 a.m.

They were both handcuffed while agents searched the home on the 2300 block of North Price Avenue, Yang said.

Federal agents had a search warrant, but not an arrest warrant, for Dang Vang. The arrest stemmed from evidence seized from the house, according to federal documents.

Agents took documents, a map, magazines and some pictures, Yang said.

The ATF agents had received a tip about Vang. One of the other suspects, Lo Cha Thao, told authorities during his arrest that Vang prepared the action plan and showed Thao a copy of it on Vang's laptop computer, the complaint alleges.

Yang insisted that her husband was not involved in the alleged plot, but said he had met Vang Pao and some of the other suspects. "He doesn't know why [federal agents are] doing that to him," she said.

Yang, 44, said her husband is Hmong and was born in Laos. The couple met in Hawaii after moving from Thailand and Laos.

Dang Vang is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton, she said. They have lived in Fresno for about 20 years. They do not have any children.

Both Yang and her husband are unemployed. Dang Vang formerly worked as a consultant for nonprofit organizations, his wife said. But he also has two businesses that have fallen on hard times -- a property investment company, Amity Investments, and a company that had contracts with the U.S. Forest Service to clear brush and plant trees.

"I'm so worried," Yang said. "We don't have any money right now. So I don't know what to do. I never expected the people would come and do this."

Yang said she and her husband had an appointment today to refinance their home because they're three months behind on the mortgage payments.

Before Dang Vang was taken away, he tried to comfort his wife.

"He said, 'Don't worry. We have done nothing wrong. Just keep praying. God will help,' " Yang said.

People in the Hmong community are worried that Vang's arrest will stir up more uneasiness.

"This is a very frightening situation for the community," said Dr. Houa Yang, an educational adviser at Fresno City College.

Peter Vang, Fresno County's refugee community liaison, said that the string of arrests could lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness among the Hmong people.

He also said Hmong residents are concerned that they might be mistaken for others wanted by federal authorities.

But Vang said he has faith in the U.S. criminal justice system and hopes the community does, too.

"People should not jump to conclusions," he said. "Let the court go through the process."

Dang Vang and his wife are familiar with the federal court system -- they have a connection to Operation Rezone, a six-year federal investigation into political corruption in the Fresno-Clovis area that left 16 developers, lobbyists and public officials convicted of crimes.

The couple were linked to the tax-evasion case of former Fresno City Council Member and state Assembly Speaker Brian Setencich, who was convicted in June 2000 of not reporting $19,300 on his 1996 income tax return.

Dang Vang was paid $5,600 from Setencich's re-election campaign in July 1996, and Chong Yang testified that she deposited the check before giving the money to a cousin, Robert Yang, who testified it was all a ruse to get money back to Setencich.

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