Former Concord jeweler accused of selling stolen goods seeks to have police statement suppressed
A former Concord jewelry store owner charged in 2011 with buying a class ring he knew had been stolen argued yesterday in court that he didn’t understand his Miranda rights when officers executed a search warrant at his shop because the police failed to provide him with a Vietnamese interpreter.
Hung Hoang, who previously owned the now-closed Golden Times Fine Jewelry store inside the Steeplegate Mall, has asked a judge to bar any comments he made to the police from being presented as evidence at his trial because he didn’t knowingly waive his right to remain silent.
But yesterday in Merrimack County Superior Court, a Concord police lieutenant testified that he had many fluid conversations with Hoang prior to his arrest and never questioned whether he understood English. Lt. John Thomas added that he and Hoang even had a “nice conversation” in the hallway outside the courtroom before yesterday’s hearing began.
The police have accused 42-year-old Hoang, who lived in Manchester at the time of his arrest and currently resides in Bedford, of buying several pieces of jewelry that he knew had been stolen in local burglaries. According to court documents, officers seized about 170 items in total, including jewelry and coins, when they searched his business in November 2011. In addition to charges of receiving stolen property and falsifying physical evidence, Hoang is also facing 21 counts of violating the city’s pawnbroker ordinance, which requires stores dealing in secondhand goods to be licensed and provide the police with detailed records of the items they buy.
The police said many of the items Hoang didn’t provide records for were stolen.
Yesterday, Concord police Detective Wade Brown testified that he became suspicious of Hoang when several suspects in local burglaries told him that they had sold stolen items to Golden Times, but the police had no record of transactions between those individuals and the store. Brown said that when he approached Hoang, he showed Brown two transactions with one of the suspected burglars, but the police believed the group made closer to a dozen separate sales.
Brown said he later received a grand jury subpoena for Hoang’s bank records and found several checks written from Hoang to the suspected burglars.
Half a dozen police officers and detectives entered Hoang’s business inside the Steeplegate Mall about 10 a.m. Nov. 29, 2011, and executed a search warrant signed earlier that day. Brown testified yesterday that he personally read Hoang his Miranda rights after the owner said he wasn’t confident reading or writing English. Brown said he read each right verbatim, then paraphrased the meaning several times. He said Hoang then wrote “yes” next to each line after being asked if he understood.
“I asked him the question, ‘Do you understand? If you do, write yes. If you don’t, write no,’ ” Brown said.
But Hoang’s lawyer, who has said his client speaks in broken English with a heavy accent and is not comfortable reading English, attempted to show Judge Richard McNamara that Hoang could have been confused by the exercise.
“When you said write, do you mean w-r-i-t-e or r-i-g-h-t?” attorney Douglas Miller asked Brown.
The translator in court yesterday had difficulty relaying the question in Vietnamese so Miller repeated it, prompting prosecutor George Waldron to object and ask how the question was relevant.
“It goes to the subject’s understanding of the phonetic wording that the witness is using,” Miller said.
“I don’t think that makes any sense at all,” McNamara replied.
But because the court was about to close for the day, the judge allowed Brown to answer the question rather than waste time quibbling over its relevance.
“I asked him to write,” Brown said. “I probably handed him the pen he used. I didn’t spell it. He did not have any questions about what I was asking him.”
In his motion to suppress Hoang’s conversations with the police from his trial, Miller argues that officers had prior knowledge of Hoang’s limited English skills and could have arranged for a Vietnamese interpreter to be present when the search warrant was executed but chose not to. He also noted yesterday that the police did not bring a copy of the Miranda form or the search warrant in Vietnamese. In his motion, Miller acknowledged that Hoang does have some English language skills but said “that ability is limited and can often lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication.”
Hoang has told the police that he moved to the United States about 20 years ago.
Miller did not finish cross-examining Brown before the court closed yesterday. The continuation of the hearing will be scheduled for another day, after which McNamara said he would issue an order.
At the time of his arrest, Hoang owned the store in Concord and also one in Manchester. Miller yesterday refused to say whether Hoang still owns any jewelry shops.
The two charges Hoang is facing in superior court directly relate to a Plymouth State class ring the police said Hoang bought despite knowing it was stolen.
The police have previously said that the owner of the ring saw the item at Hoang’s store, recognized it because it was engraved with her initials and called the police. When officers visited the store, though, the engraving had been removed, according to the police, who charged Hoang with a Class B felony of falsifying physical evidence.
His case is scheduled to go to trial in September.
(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)