$145,000 seized in Laos plot probe

Federal agents investigating an alleged plot to overthrow Laos' communist government seized eight bars of suspected gold and more than $145,000 in cash from the Fresno home of one of Vang Pao's sons, according to federal documents.

Chong Vang, the son, has not been arrested, but an affidavit supporting the search of his home says there is "probable cause" he committed crimes that have led to the arrests of 11 other men in the alleged plot.

In the affidavit, authorities say Chong Vang attended a Feb. 7 lunch meeting at the Amarin Thai Restaurant in Sacramento.

At the meeting, Vang and others viewed or handled several weapons shown by an undercover Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent. The agent was posing as an arms dealer selling weapons for use in the coup.

The affidavit also lists a bank account associated with Chong Vang's Fresno floral business that authorities believe was used to wire money to a man in Thailand allegedly involved in the Hmong resistance movement.

Among those arrested in the alleged plot are Gen. Vang Pao, widely acknowledged as the leader of the Hmong in the U.S.; Youa True Vang, also known as Joseph Youa Vang, a Fresno resident who is a founder of Fresno's Hmong International New Year; and Hue Vang, a former Clovis police officer who is the director of the United Lao Council for Peace, Freedom and Reconstruction.

The men were allegedly working with Harrison Ulrich Jack, a retired lieutenant colonel in the California National Guard who lives in Woodland.

Authorities charged the men with violating the federal Neutrality Act and conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country, among other charges.

They say the group put together a detailed plan to overthrow the Laotian government.

The plan included blowing up buildings and assassinating officials in the country's capital, Vientiane, as well as simultaneous operations in some of the nation's key provinces.

All 11 men have pleaded not guilty and are being held in custody in Sacramento. Vang Pao was recently admitted to a hospital after suffering from chest pains, according to authorities and Paula Yang, a Hmong community activist from Fresno.

The 77-year-old Vang Pao has diabetes and gout, and underwent open-heart surgery seven or eight years ago, according to another son, Chu Vang.

Agents searched Chong Vang's East Park Circle home as well as Beautiful Fresno Flowers, the floral shop he owns on North First Street, on June 4.

Reached by phone at the floral shop, a woman who identified herself as Chong Vang's wife declined to give her name or comment on the case.

The affidavit listing what was taken under the search warrant was released Wednesday.

A document titled "Seized Property Log" lists 18 items taken, including "4 bars of suspected gold from light brown leather suitcase from master bedroom" and "4 bars of suspected gold from gray locker in master bedroom."

Federal prosecutors said the bars have not been tested to see whether they are gold.

It also lists various amounts of money seized from parts of the house, including $59,050 from a black leather briefcase in the master bedroom and $64,020 found in a brown leather suitcase in the same room.

Bee Yang, a Hmong cultural expert, could not speak to the specifics of this case, but said that in general, it is not an uncommon practice for some Hmong to keep large sums of money and gold at their homes.

"That's the only way some Hmong know how to save money," he said.

"They've never lived in a society that had banks. They are more comfortable knowing that their money is in their hands than at the banks."

Bee Yang also said some Hmong elders give their money to people they trust to hold on to, and in Hmong culture, silver and gold bars are sometimes used to rub and heal people who are sick.

Paula Yang agreed that the large sum of money taken from Chong Vang's home isn't unusual.

Vang and his wife have owned a popular Fresno floral shop for several years, Paula Yang said.

"Their business is to give support to the Hmong community," she said.

Paula Yang also said she was not surprised Chong Vang's home was raided because he was always with his father.

"I still think [the U.S. government is] going to look for every avenue to build their case and obviously because he is [Vang Pao's] son, he would be very easily tied in," she said.

The search warrant affidavit also says there is probable cause that two other men violated federal law, but they have not been arrested.

They are identified as Salen Tong Va Lor and Jerry Smith Vang.

Pao Fang, executive director of the Lao Family Community of Fresno Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps refugees, said he didn't recognize those names.