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Alleged coup plotters sought CHP training

They allegedly intended to use what they learned to develop a cadre of officers to help with a takeover of Laos.

June 06, 2007|Robert J. Lopez and Rich Connell | Times Staff Writers

A former National Guard lieutenant colonel and Hmong leaders met in March with California Highway Patrol officials to try to get law enforcement training for participants in an alleged plot to overthrow the Laotian government, according to court records.

The CHP acknowledged Tuesday that retired Lt. Col. Harrison Ulrich Jack and Hmong community leaders toured the sprawling West Sacramento training academy as part of what the agency saw as an effort to boost the hiring of Asian Americans.

Jack and nine others -- including Hmong leader Gen. Vang Pao of Westminster -- were charged Monday with conspiring to buy sophisticated arms to topple the communist government in Laos.

Pao led CIA-backed forces in Laos during the Vietnam War and became a leader among Hmong refugees who later settled in the United States.

Pao's attorney, John Balazs, said Tuesday that his client was wrongly accused and would be cleared when the case goes to trial. "He stands for peace, not violence," Balazs said in a statement.

Jack brokered the CHP meeting through Assistant CHP Commissioner Arthur Anderson, said spokeswoman Fran Clader. Anderson, who heads CHP field operations, was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Clader said there was no indication that CHP personnel engaged in any criminal activity and said the agency considered the meeting routine.

"This was nothing more than an opportunity to do some outreach with the Hmong community," she said.

An affidavit filed by an undercover agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives alleges that the group planned to use CHP training to develop a cadre of officers to help with the military operations and provide security in the new regime.

According to the affidavit, Jack told the agent the group wanted as many operatives as possible to attend the CHP Academy, a rigorous 27-week course.

After the coup, "the newly trained Hmong CHP officers would abandon the CHP and move to Laos to take positions of trust in the law enforcement departments" of the new Laotian government that would be headed by Gen. Pao, according to the ATF agent, whose name was redacted from the affidavit.

Jack, a West Point graduate, and other members of the group met repeatedly with the ATF agent, a former Navy SEAL, to discuss battle tactics and the logistics of secretly moving mercenaries, as well as machine guns, anti-tank missiles and plastic explosives into Laos, according to the court records filed Monday in federal court in Sacramento.

At one point, the federal agent asked Jack about a man who had appeared to be carrying a gun at a previous meeting.

Jack responded that he had met a Riverside County deputy sheriff who worked as a personal bodyguard to Pao, according to the affidavit.

"Some from the group are law enforcement officers, some from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department," the agent recalled Jack saying.

A Riverside County Sheriff's Department spokesman, Tom Freeman, said Tuesday that the agency had received a copy of the affidavit and would probe the allegations.

"We take those statements very seriously and our internal affairs unit will be launching its investigation," Freeman said.

One of the alleged co-conspirators in the plot, Hue Vang of Fresno, is a former officer with the Clovis Police Department who left the force in 1999.

robert.lopez@latimes.com

rich.connell@latimes.com

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