Tuesday, July 26, 2011
When Fresno investor Dang Vang went public with his plans to build a Hmong town business center in east-central Fresno, hundreds of people showed up for his announcement, and dozens eventually put down cash to reserve space for their booths.
One year later, Vang's business partners aren't sure where he is, and the project appears to be dead. Many in Fresno's Hmong community wonder what happened to the tens of thousands of dollars they put up.
Nelson Vang, former director of development for the company, said he hasn't spoken to Dang Vang, also known as David Vang, since September. Nelson Vang said he spent $3,600 of his own money to pay the design engineer, and his business partner said he had no money to reimburse him.
Peter Moua, a professional civil engineer who has his own side business, was the design engineer for the project. He said that money was for the cost of surveying the property. In addition, Moua said he spent roughly $6,000 in time and materials on plans for the project, for which he still has not been paid.
Nelson Vang, who is now executive director of United Hmong International – the organization that hosted one of the Hmong New Years celebrations in Fresno – said his business partner told him 80% of the 314 booths for rent in the center had been paid for, although he has no way to confirm if this is true.
Those who had paid for booths said the cost to rent one was $500, although some got discounts. Most said they paid in cash. Using those numbers, roughly $125,500 could have been collected by Dang Vang and his wife, Chong Yang. That would not include any other investments.
Many in the Fresno Hmong community were excited at the prospect of having a Hmong center, which could give an economic boost to a population that is often poor and uneducated. Many came to Fresno to find jobs as farmworkers.
Yer Lee, 50, was enthusiastic about the idea and paid $400 for a booth, but said she never heard anything about the project again.
"I need my money back," Lee said.
Sam Bliatout, who owns the Asian Village shopping center on King's Canyon Road near Willow Avenue, shared an office with Dang Vang and said he hasn't seen Vang in about a year. Friends, as well as people trying to deliver legal papers, have been looking for Vang, he said, but Bliatout does not know where he is.
Vang's company, Asian Development Company LLC, no longer is housed at the Asian Village but is still active according to the secretary of state's website.
The 20-acre property on Maple south of McKinley leased by the Hmong Town Company, for which Nelson Vang is listed as the agent, has been bought by an irrigation company.
Phone numbers associated with Dang Vang have been disconnected, and he no longer resides at his listed address. A search of the Fresno County Superior Court database did not reveal any lawsuits regarding him or his company.
Dang Vang was arrested in 2007 along with 11 others in connection with a plot to overthrow the Laotian government. He wrote a 19-page document detailing the plans for "Operation Popcorn," an apparent reference to POP, the acronym for Laos' Political Opposition Party. The majority of the case was thrown out in November.
Some Hmong people say Dang Vang is still in town. Nelson Vang said he heard Dang Vang and his wife may be living in an empty house.
Moua said some of the people who had rented booths called him asking what had happened, and he told them if they wanted to pursue legal action, he would go along with it.
But many people did not want to sue.
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, paid $600 for two booths – a discounted price – but she did not want to be named because she knows the couple well. She did not want to sue Dang Vang and his wife.
"I just feel like, let God handle that," she said.
Nelson Vang is not interested in suing either. His wife and Dang Vang's wife are sisters.
Moua said a lawsuit probably wouldn't go anywhere, regardless, because Dang Vang probably does not have the money to pay.
Nelson Vang said he still hopes to create a Hmong center, but he will not be working with his former business partner. He is currently negotiating details, he said, which he said he cannot disclose until they are finalized.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6427.