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Extortion Nets $19,500 From Computer Store : Crime: Asian gang members are suspected of abducting a computer store owner and an employee and forcing them to withdraw funds from a bank account.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Michelle McDonald opened her computer store four months ago, she knew it could be targeted for robbery by Asian gang members who have preyed on similar businesses in the area.

On Tuesday, the Vietnamese-American entrepreneur said her worst fears came true when four men kidnaped her and a store employee at gunpoint and forced them to withdraw $19,500 from the store’s bank account.

“These guys were crazy,” McDonald said, describing four-hour ordeal at the hands of her captors. “I was scared something like this might happen.”

In the past year, Asian gangs have pulled off a number of computer thefts throughout Orange County, stealing millions of dollars worth of computer microchips and computer hardware. In some cases, the gangs also have taken large sums of cash.

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Several crime rings, involving groups operating mostly out of Westminster, Garden Grove and Santa Ana, are under investigation by federal and local authorities. In many cases, investigators say, the bandits have carried out highly organized, paramilitary-type missions at some of the state’s best known computer concerns--binding and gagging workers and routinely issuing death threats against them.

In the latest incident, police said that McDonald, 21, of Westminster, was accosted by four men as she was opening the doors of Compu+plus Inc. at 15569 Brookhurst St. about 9:10 a.m. The suspects forced McDonald and the store manager, David P. Tran, into a 1984 black Chevrolet Blazer and took them to an empty house in Westminster.

McDonald said the men then demanded that she go to her bank in Garden Grove and withdraw $10,000, while they stayed in the house holding Tran hostage.

When she came back with the money, the men then demanded an additional $10,000, she said. This time, Tran went to the bank while McDonald was held at gunpoint.

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McDonald said she was unexpectedly released by her captors before Tran returned to the vacant house with $9,500 in cash he had withdrawn from the bank. McDonald said the 34-year-old Tran gave the abductors the money but refused to cooperate further.

According to McDonald, Tran then escaped on foot as one of the gunmen fired two shots, apparently into the ceiling of the house. McDonald, meanwhile, had contacted police and led them to the house, but the gunman had already fled.

Neither McDonald nor Tran was hurt in the ordeal, McDonald said.

Investigators would not say if the suspects in the case were believed to be members of the same Asian gangs that have preyed on other computer businesses in recent months, and they declined to release details of the incident.

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In the past, Asian gangs have stolen computer microchips, devices used to store and retrieve data, and sold them on the black market, police investigators said.

After Tuesday’s “terrifying experience” McDonald said she is “scared this might happen again.”

But despite her kidnaping, McDonald said she will not close her store.

“I want to live the American way,” she said. “Computers is a good business, but it’s dangerous.”

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Thanh Thuy Nguyen contributed to this report.


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