The owner of a Little Saigon lounge who federal agents say was victimized in a loan shark operation has filed a lawsuit against the Police Department in Westminster, charging that officers formed a "team" to provide muscle for the key suspect.
Hanh Le said officers threatened and intimidated her, pulled her over on bogus traffic stops and showed up at her lounge unannounced, pushing her to pay her monthly installments on a high-interest loan.
"My client lived with so much fear," said Mark Eisenberg, Le's attorney. "She never knew when they would appear."
City officials did not respond to requests for comment or to emailed questions about the case, which began unfolding last August when FBI agents arrested a Little Saigon businessman and a city police officer on suspicion of running a loan shark operation.
Kevin Khanh Tuan Do, the owner of a construction firm, allegedly lent the woman $170,000 to open and run the lounge, charging her 60% annual interest — far in excess of what the state permits. A Westminster police officer, Anthony Duong Donner, was accused of being Do's "enforcer."
But in her 11-count lawsuit, Le alleges that the involvement of police runs far deeper than a single officer.
Le charges in the federal lawsuit that officers formed a "loan sharking team," bringing in police to harass and intimidate her and her employees when she began falling behind on monthly payments.
The suit contends that officers threatened to toss her in jail for missing payments, repeatedly drove by her house, shined high-intensity lights into her business to scare customers, pulled her and employees over as they drove away from work and stormed into her business to check for code violations.
Officers, the suit charges, would show up at her lounge and — with a hand on their guns — demand that "customers clearly over the age of 21" produce their identification.
Le contends that the intimidation drove away customers and damaged her Bolsa Avenue business. The suit seeks an unspecified amount for loss of income and reputation.
Around Little Saigon, a booming immigrant community, the case has captured attention, especially among those who fled Vietnam and recall the suspicion of law enforcement in their homeland.
"There is already mistrust of the police that comes from our years of living in a corrupt country," David Bui said after parking his car outside ABC Supermarket. "This will make things worse — especially for older people who don't adjust so easily."
"I'm not sure I believe there is reason for a lawsuit," said Linh Hoang, who lives in neighboring Santa Ana but visits Little Saigon every week. She said the case does not reflect the feelings she has developed about the city's police force.
"We've had a positive experience with the police people here," Hoang said. "At every community event, they make their presence known and they are helpful and reliable and honest."