Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
Home-invasion burglary tactic crops up in city

In seven such cases, burglars crash into homes
and terrorize residents

By Debra Barayuga
Star-Bulletin



Local burglaries are beginning to look like home invasions on the mainland targeting immigrant Asian families.

In California, Vietnamese and Chinese families have been terrorized, robbed and in some cases, fatally injured by heavily armed burglars.

In Dallas, Asian gangs have been spotted at firing ranges practicing SWAT tactics used in carrying out home invasions.

Since March, Honolulu police have investigated at least seven cases that appear to involve Asian gangs taking over a home and terrorizing and robbing residents. Of the 123 robberies reported in September, up slightly from the month before, at least four cases appeared to be of this type.

Honolulu police are relieved that the cases haven't reached the proportions of such burglaries on the mainland.

One of the earliest cases occurred in March. A 25-year-old University woman was watching television when two men entered her home just before midnight. They gagged her, covered her head with a blanket, bound her ankles and wrists with duct tape and pistol-whipped her, said Detective Rheynol Kosaka of the robbery detail. "They beat her up pretty good, but she put up a big fight."

The woman bit one of the men hard enough on the hand that when he yanked his hand away, one of her teeth fell out, Kosaka said. The two fled with money and jewelry. She described them as Asian - possibly Vietnamese. Both looked like waiters - clad in long white-sleeved shirts and dark pants.

Almost six months later, a similar case cropped up.

On Sept. 5, a 27-year-old man was asleep in the Makiki home he shared with relatives when he was awakened by two men with a knife and screwdriver. They tied him with wire, covered his face with a blanket and robbed him of about $4,000, police said. They threatened to kill him if he called police.

Police arrested Thuy Pham, 23, in connection with the robbery. He awaits trial on first-degree robbery, burglary and kidnapping charges. He allegedly is associated with a gang in Garden Grove, Calif., police said. The victim did not recover his money.

In San Jose, home invasions were becoming a serious problem five years ago, said robbery Detective Luu Pham.

One woman died after her throat was cut. In some cases, victims have been tortured, pistol-whipped, or threatened with the death of an infant or child. Others have had boiling water poured over them, Pham said.

The San Jose police caseload has since dropped significantly, as robbers have turned to other more lucrative targets. About 10 cases have been reported since the beginning of the year, Pham said, a drop from the five cases a week that were previously being reported.

The cases had similar characteristics: The victims were Asians. Suspects later arrested were also Asian.

Most were in their late teens or early 20s. Hardly any of the suspects were over age 30. Most were what Vietnamese would call bui doi, or "dirt life," said Pham. "They go where the wind takes them - like tumbleweeds."

They are mobile - blowing into town and heading to a coffee shop or pool hall known for the criminal elements that hang out. There, they spread they word that they're "players" and want some action, Pham said.

They will hastily recruit people - enemies, sometimes friends or even family members - of an intended victim who has information on the victim and are willing to pull off a robbery.

The robberies are well-planned and executed, he said.

At a recent Asian gang conference, speakers described home invasions where gangs would enter a home and terrorize the family for eight hours to as long as 24 hours, said Honolulu police Lt. Bill Kato, head of the violent crimes detail.

Victims in at least two of the cases reported here are no longer willing to cooperate in the investigations.

In this month's botched robbery at a Date Street home, a 66-year-old Chinese resident was shot in the leg as he tried to flee. Jason R. Medeiros, 19, of Waialae, has been charged in that robbery. Two others - including a Vietnamese youth - were arrested but later released pending further investigation. When police returned to speak with family members a few days later, the family no longer wished to discuss the incident. Police got the same reaction from the University woman who was pistol-whipped.

Manh Do, who's been in Hawaii for four years, said in Vietnam, his people feared the Communist police. "They hate police - police treat them harshly." Here, they're even more reluctant to call authorities if they've been victimized because of the language barrier, he said.

The same goes for opening a bank account, Do said. "They don't trust the Communist government and bank." Instead, they keep whatever cash or valuables they have with them or at home, a practice criminals are well aware of.

Honolulu police have been in touch with police departments on the West Coast to monitor these types of robberies, said Lt. Cliff Takesono, head of the robbery detail.




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