Even after a plot to fraudulently sell plots of land in a new Hmong homeland was unraveled by investigators and the money was ultimately seized by federal agencies, the Minnesotans who collectively paid more than a million dollars still haven't seen their money returned.
Now, those people are suing the federal government in an attempt to recoup their losses, saying they're entitled to the money because they had no part in the fraud scheme a Minnesota man named Seng Xiong was convicted of carrying out.
"The government was aware of who these people were and was aware that they had clean hands," said Paul Applebaum, an attorney for the group. "Instead of returning the money to them, as it rightfully should have, the money is sitting in the United States Treasury."
Despite the conviction, many of those who gave Xiong the money still believe in his movement to establish a Hmong homeland in southeast Asia and held a rally outside the federal courthouse in St. Paul Monday to express their support for his mission.
"All these people, they trust Mr. Xiong," said Dao Moua of the Hmong State Association, gesturing at the crowd. "[He] had a vision."
Federal prosecutors allege Xiong promised 10 acres of land, a house and other things in a new Hmong homeland he was working with world leaders to establish, collecting more than $1.3 million in $3,000-$5,000 increments from Twin Cities residents.
The U.S. Attorney's office says the judgement in Xiong's case involves restitution to the victims. But because the case is under appeal, the money seized is being held until the case is resolved.
"It isn’t uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve had this amount of money and this united of a front," Applebaum said. "That’s what makes it something of a viable lawsuit."