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Alleged leader of coup plot posts bail

Supporters cheer former Laotian Gen. Vang Pao as he leaves court for an O.C. home.

July 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Former Laotian Gen. Vang Pao, accused of being the ringleader in a plot to overthrow the communist government of Laos, was freed on bail Friday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd ordered the 77-year-old leader of the Hmong community in the U.S. released on a $1.5-million bond after relatives agreed to post four properties in Sacramento, Fresno and Westminster as collateral.

Several hundred people gathered outside the federal courthouse cheered as the former general walked out the front door and through the crowd. Some held signs and balloons that said, "Welcome home."

Vang Pao, who was wearing a dark suit with an open shirt, accepted a bouquet of purple flowers but said nothing to the crowd. He was escorted to a van and driven away.

He will be under strict house arrest at the Westminster home and unable to have visitors.

"We're just happy he's released, and I'm sure the Hmong community is happy," said John Balazs, Vang Pao's attorney.

Vang Pao and 10 other men are accused of planning to buy nearly $10-million worth of machine guns, antiaircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, mines and other weapons to topple the government of Laos.

Drozd has ordered 10 of the 11 defendants in the case released. The 11th defendant, Lo Chao Thao, 34, of Clovis, was ordered released on a $2.3-million bond, but he was unable to post it Friday and remained jailed.

The other central figure in the case, Harrison Jack, 60, a former member of the U.S. military accused of acting as a middleman between the Hmong leaders and a presumed arms dealer who was really an undercover federal agent, was released Thursday after posting his $1-million bond, secured by family property.

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