In a case that’s gained international attention, a comedian from Vietnam who traveled to Orange County to make a video was convicted Wednesday of sexually assaulting a boy.
Minh Quang Hong, better known by his stage name Minh Beo, or Fat Minh, pleaded guilty to two felonies: oral copulation of a minor and attempting to commit a lewd act on a child younger than 14.
He appeared at the West Justice Center in Westminster, grim and thinner than at previous hearings, facing two rows of Vietnamese media documenting his plight to a rapt audience in Little Saigon and across his homeland.
Hong, 38, listened to an interpreter as Superior Court Judge Derek G. Johnson read the charges and his lawyer stood in front of him, blocking the cameras.
With the plea bargain, Hong is expected to be sentenced to 18 months in state prison and must register as a sex offender in the U.S. for the rest of his life, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Taghavi.
The count of oral copulation of a person younger than 18 could be a felony or misdemeanor, but based on the defendant’s celebrity and his access to children, officials chose the more serious crime, Taghavi said.
Hong had been considered a flight risk, and at his arraignment in mid-April, prosecutors pushed for a high bail. He has been held in custody on a $1-million bond.
The evidence is there in those text messages. We have to accept what happened in court even if we worry about him.
“I think it was a fair and just outcome,” Taghavi said as reporters swarmed around him for live shots outside the courtroom.
On March 20, Hong met with dancers at a talent show at a radio station in Huntington Beach, telling them about his new video production. Three days later, authorities said, a 16-year-old boy was sexually assaulted by Hong when he arrived to audition for the video. The boy contacted Garden Grove police.
A Vietnamese officer posing as the teenager texted Hong to arrange for a meeting. Hong, officials said, agreed to the meeting with the intent of committing a lewd act. Police arrested him at the meeting location.
“The evidence is there in those text messages. We have to accept what happened in court even if we worry about him,” said Thien Thanh Nguyen, Hong’s uncle, who attended Wednesday’s hearing along with the defendant’s brother, visiting from Vietnam.
Strangers and tourists sat near the family members, caught up in the troubles of a star who has a theater named after him in Saigon, and eager to learn how American-style justice might apply to a Vietnamese national.
Nguyen Thanh Son, a lawyer with the Hanoi Bar Assn., said his group sent him here three times to witness different hearings — and to bring back a full report.
“This has been resolved so fast — fast, fast, fast. I suppose there’s an advantage to them getting it done,” he said. “The Vietnamese are learning about U.S. laws watching this, and it’s a reminder that they take rules very seriously here. In Vietnam, a trial like this could have a different result.”
Nguyen then moved toward a microphone, sharing his reaction with a Facebook audience. Journalists trying to explain the reasoning behind each count continued to lob Taghavi with questions about the fairness of Hong’s treatment.
The comedian is expected to be sentenced Dec. 16.
“We’re not sure what to expect next,” said Nguyen, the uncle. “Will he be deported? Or will he stay? We don’t know the system well enough to predict.”