Woodbury man charged for identity theft of 300 people in Twin Cities

- A former accountant for a Minnesota homeless shelter allegedly stole the identities of 300 people in the Twin Cities metro and used their banking information to pay his bills and daughter's tuition, according to a criminal complaint. Many of the victims were donors to the shelter he worked at.

Hai Jay Phy Vu, 53, of Woodbury had his first appearance in Washington County Court on Thursday. A judge set his bail at $300,000. Vu is charged with one count of identity theft and two counts of false representation of unemployment benefits.

“We have found that the frequency of identity theft is greatly increasing. It is important for us all to guard our personal information zealously," said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput in a press release. "The potential fallout in failing to do so can be economically disastrous for the victims."

According to the criminal complaint, Vu worked at the House of Charity homeless shelter as an accountant from July of 2014 to February of 2017. In this position, he had access to donor banking information.

After Vu was fired from House of Charity in February of 2017, he applied for unemployment benefits through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. A series of transactions alerted DEED officials to potentially suspicious activity in his account. Vu had an outstanding balance in his unemployment account with DEED. Five times that balance was paid through unauthorized payments from five different people. Investigators later learned, all five victims were donors to the House of Charity.

In December, authorities executed a search warrant at Vu's home and found about 300 victim identities among credit reports, rental applications, checks, electronic banking information, a birth certificate and more. Investigators determined Vu had been using the banking information of multiple victims to pay his bills, credit cards and daughter's private high school tuition. Many of the victims were donors to the House of Charity.

Authorities also learned Vu was not qualified the unemployment benefits he received from March to September of 2017. He falsely claimed he had been laid-off instead of fired and didn't receive severance, which he had. He ended up receiving 22 payments, totaling $11,439 from DEED.

Vu was convicted of theft in 2014 and has been on probation.

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