ST. PAUL, Minnesota — A fast-talking huckster was sentenced to just over seven years in prison for bilking elderly Hmong refugees out of $1.7 million with the phony promise that he was working with U.S. officials and the United Nations to create a Hmong homeland.
Seng Xiong, 49, had used a series of Hmong language YouTube videos and conference calls to sucker members of the displaced southeast Asian ethnic group to deposit between $3,000 and $5,000 in his account in return for 10 acres of land and a house in the soon-to-be-created state.
Tens of thousands of Hmong refugees came to the United States after the Vietnamese War, during which they fought alongside American troops against Communist forces mainly in Laos. Hmong communities, which are heavily concentrated in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin, remain tight-knit.
“They were displaced, they had a refugee experience,” said U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It (was) these folks’ lack of assimilation in this country, their lack of healing over this horrific past, that Mr. Xiong preyed upon,”
Xiong had claimed his group — Hmong Tebchaws, or Homn Country — had been working closely with the United States government and the United Nations to establish the new Hmong country somewhere in Southeast Asia. He said high-ranking officials had “approved” or “authorized” his proposal and that the creation of the state was to be announced imminently.
He offered his targets the opportunity to be “founders” who would be entitled to land, a house free healthcare as well as government assistance for those over 65 in exchange for their money.
At trial, U.S. state department and U.N. officials testified that Xiong had not been working with anyone at either agency and that the fanciful plan had no official approval.
Still, many of Xiong’s backers continued to stand by him and around 50 appeared in court at his sentencing to show their support and to call for his release.
“I am an honest person. I have dedicated my life to the liberation of the Hmong people,” Xiong told the judge. “This is politically motivated. It has nothing to do with fraud … everybody knows that.”
Nelson noted that Xiong’s influence over some of his followers seemed almost “cult-like” but, “the fact is you lied to your followers and to this day you continue to deny it.”