Charges filed, authorities seeking woman in $450,000 ginseng farm swindle


A former Brooklyn Center woman has been charged in an investment fraud involving a nonexistent ginseng farm and targeting members of the Minnesota Hmong community. Casino and horse track records indicate that she spent much of the money on gambling.

Mai Vu Vang, 48, has been charged by warrant in Hennepin County District Court with six counts of theft by swindle.  Anyone with information on her whereabouts should call their local law enforcement.

The case was charged by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and is the result of an investigation by the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau and the Fridley Police.

“These cases are always so sad,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. “Ms. Vang preyed on people who trusted her by telling a series of lies. Their losses were substantial and we hope to prove in court that she is guilty of fraud and should be sent to prison.”

Commerce department agents specialize in this type of fraud and worked with Fridley Police where one of the victims first reported it.

“This is a disturbing case of affinity fraud,” said Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman. “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.”

Between 2012 and 2014, Vang orchestrated a fraud scheme in which 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. The fraud resulted in total losses to nine victims of more than $450,000, including one couple who knew Vang from church and gave her their life savings.

“We’re pleased to see that Mai Vang’s victims will get justice,” said Fridley Police Chief Brian Weierke. “Ms. Vang preyed upon people from her own community. They put their trust in her, and unfortunately she took advantage of their kindness and compassion. It was truly devastating to see the pain she inflicted upon so many decent, hard-working people.” 

In all of the transactions, the victims gave Vang cash to invest in the promised ginseng yield at harvest time. Vang told the victims that she knew a buyer from China who would purchase the ginseng.  Vang solicited investments of $3,500 to $4,000 per acre and said the harvested ginseng would be worth $75,000 per acre, resulting in a large profit, the complaint states.

Vang told some of the victims that she was going through a divorce and needed money. She also told most of the victims that she had cancer and was dying. She told some that she needed the money to pay back taxes on the ginseng farm. Some of the victims were members of a church that Vang joined, while other victims were acquaintances.

The investigation found no record that Vang was a registered ginseng grower or dealer in Wisconsin.

Records from Mystic Lake Casino showed that, between 2012 and 2014, Vang’s buy-in at the casino totaled more than one million dollars. (A buy-in is the amount a player used to buy chips or play the slot machines.) Vang’s buy-in increased each year as she took money from the victims. In 2012, her buy-in was less than $75,000, according to the complaint. In 2014, it was nearly $665,000. The investigation also found that Vang spent more than $27,000 at Running Aces Harness Park in October 2014.

Criminal Complaint (PDF)