Feds drop charges against Hmong leader Vang Pao

Friday, September 18, 2009

The federal government has dropped its charges against Hmong leader Vang Pao, who was indicted along with 10 others more than two years ago for allegedly plotting the violent overthrow of the communist regime in Laos.

U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown of Sacramento announced today that a federal grand jury returned a sealed superseding indictment Thursday omitting Vang as a defendant.

The indictment charges the other 10 who were named in the first indictment and adds two new defendants.

Brown noted that federal prosecutors have wide charging discretion and may consider, among other factors, a person's culpability, history and consequences of a conviction. He was not more specific as to which of these may have come into play with respect to the 79-year-old Vang.

"In our measured judgment, and based on the totality of the evidence in the case and the circumstances regarding defendant Vang Pao, we believe that continued prosecution of this defendant is no longer warranted," Brown said.

He declined to comment further.

A storm of protest spread through the Hmong community, both in the United States and abroad, as well as among veterans of the Vietnam War, and even some members of Congress, over the indictment of Vang, the most influential leader in modern Hmong history.

He rose from a 13-year-old runner to a major general in the Royal Lao Army - the highest rank ever attained by a Hmong tribesman. He led a CIA-sponsored guerilla army against the Pathet Lao, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese between 1960 and 1975, before the fall to the communists of South Vietnam and then Laos, native country of the Hmong.

Vang's units suffered heavy casualties and are credited with saving uncounted thousands of American lives.

William Colby, former head of the CIA, once called Vang "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War."

The charges in the new indictment are much the same as those in the first indictment. All 12 defendants - 11 Hmong men and a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Woodland - are charged with conspiring to violate the Neutrality Act by scheming to topple the government of a country at peace with the United States.

They are also charged with conspiring to "kill, maim and injure" persons and to damage property in a foreign country, to export military grade weapons to Laos without a license from the U. S. Department of State, and to receive and transport explosives in interstate and foreign commerce.

Finally, all of them are charged with actually violating the Neutrality Act.

The 10 holdovers from the first indictment are Harrison Jack, 62, of Woodland; Lo Cha Thao, 36, of Clovis; Lo Thao, 65, of Sacramento; Youa True Vang, 72, of Sanger; Hue Vang, 41, of Fresno; Chong Vang Thao, 56, of Fresno; Seng Vue, 71, of Fresno; Chue Lo, 61, of Stockton; Nhia Kao Vang, 50, of Rancho Cordova, and David Vang, 50, of Fresno. New defendants are Jerry Yang, 58, and Thomas Yang, 47, both of Stockton.

They all face a maximum life plus 18 years in prison if convicted on every count.


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