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Little Saigon Merchant Faces Judge

Court: Westminster video shop owner whose display of Communist symbols drew angry crowds will not contest tape piracy charges, says his attorney.

August 10, 1999|TINI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The shopkeeper whose display of Communist symbols triggered weeks of protests earlier this year in Westminster's Little Saigon will go before an Orange County judge today to be sentenced on charges of video piracy.

His attorney says Truong Van Tran plans to offer no defense in an abbreviated trial before Superior Court Judge Corey Cramin in Santa Ana on a felony charge of illegally copying thousands of videotapes at his video store in a Bolsa Avenue mini-mall.

Tran was absent from a hearing on his case Monday. But his lawyer, Ron Talmo of Santa Ana, agreed to waive Tran's right to a jury trial and accept the prosecution's case.

"The criminal case has been hanging over his head," Talmo said. "With [this case] over, he'll be able to move ahead with his life."

Tran faces a maximum of five years in prison for the crime, but is likely to receive a lighter sentence, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner. In the last three years, about two dozen people have been convicted on video piracy charges in Orange County, with sentences ranging from 90 days to a year in jail, he said.

Tran, 37, sparked a two-month protest beginning in mid-January in Westminster's Vietnamese community when he posted a picture of Communist leader Ho Chi Minh and a flag of the current Vietnamese government in his video shop.

His actions ignited passionate protest from thousands of Vietnamese emigres who considered the Communist symbols offensive. Many are exiles and political prisoners who fled the Communist regime at the end of the war.

Tran defended his display, saying he simply wanted to prompt dialogue within a community that had never accepted dissent on the issue of normalizing relations with Vietnam.

The ordeal came to a bizarre end when Westminster officers entered his video store to investigate an apparent burglary. As protesters continued to chant outside, officers discovered more than 100 videocassette recorders wired together in what they said was an elaborate counterfeiting operation.

In addition, they confiscated 147 VCRs and more than 17,000 counterfeit videos--mainly Asian soap operas--from his business.

Since his arrest March 16, Tran has stayed out of the public eye as the political movement borne out of the protests has continued.

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