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United States v. Vang

October 23, 1997

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THONG VANG AND NENG VUE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Nos. 96-CR-11-C-02 & 96-CR-11-C-04--Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

Before Flaum, Ripple, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

Flaum, Circuit Judge.

Argued September 11, 1997

Decided October 23, 1997

Thong Vang and Neng Vue participated in a six-day, interstate trip in which a group of men repeatedly forced themselves upon three young girls brought along for that purpose. A jury convicted both men under 18 U.S.C. sec. 2423(b), which prohibits traveling in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act with a person under eighteen years of age. *fn1 The District Court sentenced the defendants to the statutory maximum penalty of one hundred and twenty months in prison. Vang and Vue appeal these sentences, as well as the district court's instruction to the jury regarding the elements of a sec. 2423(b) violation. We affirm the jury's verdicts and the district court's sentences.

I. BACKGROUND

In November 1995, Thong Vang (age 22) was working as an inspector at a fabrication company in Onalaska, Wisconsin. He was just beginning his first of four years of probation based on a conviction for two counts of first degree sexual assault of a child in La Crosse County Circuit Court. *fn2 Neng Vue (age 22) was unemployed and living in La Crosse, Wisconsin, with his parents, his wife, and their two children. Fong Vang, *fn3 an older friend of the two men, served as the liaison to three young girls-- ML (age 13), KL (age 12), and NT (age 12).

Fong Vang picked up ML on November 29 at a shopping mall in La Crosse and took her to the Ranch Motel in LaCrescent, Minnesota. ML spent the night partying and watching television with Fong Vang, Thong Vang, Neng Vue, and some other men. Fong Vang returned to La Crosse the next day with an unidentified male (nicknamed "Midget") to pick up KL and NT at the Logan Middle School. Fong Vang convinced the girls to go with him to the Ranch Motel to visit an ex-boyfriend of NT's who was apparently ill.

When the group arrived in LaCrescent, Fong Vang called Thong Vang and Neng Vue in La Crosse to tell them that he had three girls in a motel room, and instructed them to keep this secret. That night, after Thong Vang and Neng Vue arrived at the motel, the men tricked some of the girls into drinking a mixture of vodka and orange juice. At one point, Thong Vang grabbed KL's arm and squeezed so tightly that she began to cry. Thong Vang also had sexual intercourse with ML while the other two girls were lying nearby. Thong Vang did not spend the night in the motel room, but Neng Vue did not return home until the morning.

The next day, December 1, 1995, Fong Vang drove the girls back to La Crosse to pick up Neng Vue at his house. The group then drove to Thong Vang's house to meet Thong and Chue Her. *fn4 Both men hopped in Her's car, and the group began a six-hour journey to Des Moines, Iowa. Appellants claimed that the purpose of the trip was solely to visit a friend of Fong and Thong Vang's named Mercedes. Yet, although the trip took approximately six hours, the group stayed with Mercedes for only an hour and declined her invitation for the group to spend the night. Instead, Fong Vang led the group to the Royal Motel in Des Moines.

The situation turned much uglier at this point. After one of the girls resisted Fong Vang's sexual advances, Neng Vue warned NT that the girls' ride home might be in jeopardy if they did not consent to such advances. He echoed this sentiment to ML by telling her that the men would "ditch them, just leave them there" unless the girls were willing to engage in sexual intercourse. Soon after making this statement, Vue asked ML to convince KL to have sex with Thong Vang.

Neng Vue, however, apparently decided he wanted KL for himself and forced her to have sex with him against her will. KL took a shower afterwards, but when she returned to the room, Vue told her that Thong Vang wanted to have sex with her, too. When she refused, Vue picked her up and carried her to a room in which Fong and Thong Vang were waiting. Thong Vang raped KL when she refused to have sex with him. Thong Vang also had sex with NT that night, and Fong Vang hit and raped NT.

The men continued to torment KL the next morning. One of the men told KL that she could "have it the easy way or the hard way." Despite responding that she "didn't want it any of the ways," Thong Vang raped her while Fong Vang held her down. The men then switched positions, and Fong Vang had sex with KL while Thong Vang held her down. They switched one more time ...


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