Is West Valley burglary connected to Vietnamese temple dispute?

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 6:36 p.m. MDT

Members of Pho Quang Congregation of Vietnamese Buddhists (VIETNAMESE UNIFIED BUDDHIST ASSOCIATION OF UTAH) meet to worship in the courtyard of their Temple located at 1185 West 1000 North in Salt Lake City Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. The group are in a court battle to get back a building that they paid for but now are being evicted.

Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

WEST VALLEY CITY — The door was broken and all the paperwork was on the floor.

That’s what workers at Vietlink Travel and Services, 3695 S. Redwood Road, saw when they came to work Friday. But it’s what was left behind that’s raising suspicion.

“All the computers, a lot of what I call valuable to me is still here,” said Hoa Vo, owner of the travel agency. The only items taken from the business were documents relating to a court case.

The thief or thieves broke several locks on filing cabinets, and Vo said anything that was labeled Chua Pho Quang Temple document was taken.

Vo is on the Board of Trustees of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Utah. For the past year, the group has been embroiled in a legal battle with the Vietnamese-American Unified Buddhist Congress in the USA.

At the center of a lawsuit, the property rights to the Vietnamese Buddhist temple at 1185 W. 1000 North in Salt Lake City. About 10 years ago, the Utah organization agreed to donate the property to the American-Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Congress in the USA, based in Monterey, Calif., for safekeeping and to provide spiritual guidance.

In 2010 that deed was transferred to Buddhist monk Thich Tri Lang without the Utah group's knowledge. In October 2011, Lang evicted the group, and the temple was being used by a handful of his local followers. A judge has since ordered both groups to share the temple until the court proceedings are over.

Vo said temple-related documents that he was preparing for his attorney are now missing. The thieves also took an envelope labeled Phoa Quang fundraiser, which had $2,300 inside, and an empty safe.

“The safe is really heavy. It takes about two or three people to carry that safe,” said Dinh Nguyen, an attorney for the Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Association of Utah.

An attorney for the Vietnamese-American Unified Buddhist Congress in the USA released a statement denying any involvement with last week's alleged break-in.

“About a year ago, litigation arose between the congress and a small group of those local members concerning ownership of the temple. The parties were required to produce relevant documents in that litigation months ago. Initially, Mr. Vo claimed the documents were kept at the temple and had either been lost or thrown away. Now, he claims the documents were kept at his office and makes the unbelievable assertion that members of the Congress broke into his office and stole the documents,” the statement said.

It goes on to say that the Congress is a group of Vietnamese Buddhists dedicated to finding peace and will allow this dispute to resolved by the court.

Police are looking into the dispute as part of the investigation, and forensic teams processed the scene Monday.

Vo said if the burglary is related, it's a blow in a case that's taken an emotional toll on their congregation.

“Every week, we come to the service and still (have) tears,” he said.

E-mail: syi@ksl.com

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