(KMSP) - A former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota woman is charged in an investment fraud scheme involving a nonexistent ginseng farm that prosecutors say targeted members of the local Hmong community.
Mai Vu Vang, 48, has been charged by warrant with six counts of theft by swindle. The fraud resulted in total losses to nine victims of more than $450,000, including one couple who gave Vang their life savings.
Between 2012 and 2014, Vang orchestrated a fraud scheme where she convinced members of the Minnesota Hmong community to invest in a ginseng farm she claimed to own near Wausau, Wisconsin, according to the criminal complaint.
In all of the transactions, the victims gave Vang cash in exchange for a yield of ginseng at harvest time. The cost varied from $3,500 to $4,000 per acre and Vang convinced the victims the ginseng would be worth $75,000 per acre, leading to a significant profit for investors.
Investigators found no record that Vang was a registered ginseng grower or dealer in Wisconsin.
Vang told most of the victims that she had cancer and was dying. Others she told that she was going through a divorce and needed some money or that she needed to pay back taxes on the ginseng farm. She told one victim she needed the money because she was traveling to Jerusalem to sell some property there.
“This is a disturbing case of affinity fraud,” Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman said in a statement. “Vang targeted fellow members of the Hmong community, including several she met through church. She befriended them to gain their trust and then she stole their hard-earned savings.”
Records show Vang bet more than $1M at Mystic Lake Casino and Running Aces Harness Park between 2012 and 2014. Her buy-in increased as she took more money from victims, the charges say.
Vang is not in custody. Authorities have been unable to locate her, but have reason to believe she is in Georgia.