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A Piece of the Action 

How a bright and beguiling budget analyst allegedly fleeced a showcase minority aid program at SFSU

Wednesday, Mar 8 2000
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Page 3 of 4

These gentlemen also showed up on the university's payroll, along with Luu's mother and brother, as teaching assistants in the EOP's tutoring center, or "Special Place." Student assistants are required to show that they are U.S. citizens and enrolled at least half-time at the university. Only Luu's brother was a student, and nobody, according to grand jury testimony, did any tutoring.

Ostensibly, Luu's friends and relatives were hired to teach college-level mathematics, and they were paid accordingly. For example, her mother, Kim Tran, received eight checks totaling $10,997. Hieu Sam accepted seven checks, for $9,240. The others received between $3,000 and $6,000 each.

Mendez, the EOP's former deputy director, told the grand jury he had signed time sheets for every one of these "tutors" -- without knowing who they were. He said he had seen Luu's mother, Kim Tran, around the office. He said he didn't recognize the others, including Nancy's brother, Vu Luu.

"Do you know Vu Luu?" Murray asked Mendez.

"No, I don't."

"Does your signature appear anywhere on the student assistant payroll voucher?"

"Yes, it does."

"You signed that and authorized the payment of that payroll voucher?"

"Correct."

"Did you personally investigate to determine the accuracy or honesty of any of the entries on that form?"

"Um ... no."

Near the corner of Turk and Leavenworth, a gate has been pulled across the facade of the Co Hang Nuoc Restaurant, a Vietnamese-style eatery. The owner, Andy Nguyen, has closed the place down and opened a new restaurant across the street.

"That place snake bit," he says, sitting at a table in his new location. A big-screen karaoke machine in the corner dominates the room. An Asian woman in a blue, slinky dress sings a lilting melody with tears in her eyes. Words written in foreign characters scroll across the bottom of the screen. Nguyen's wife, in a gray sweat suit, leans against her broom, mesmerized by the woman's sad song.

Nguyen says he acquired the cafe across the street at a good price two years ago. It, too, had been a karaoke bar. The cops had shut it down, he says. It was so beat up, he poured $67,000 into its renovation. Despite his investment, he didn't get any business. "You want in? I sell to you."

Nancy Luu and her boyfriend Anthony Hang had leased the establishment before Nguyen bought it, but it's difficult to say whether they were using it as a Spartan gangbanger hangout, or merely a money-laundering front. Neighbors in the area say it was a nightclub. Hang says it was a coffee shop. Hang and his brother, Hung Hang, controlled the lease between 1991 and 1999, while Luu occasionally paid the $933 monthly rent, the building's owners testified. During that time, the place went through several incarnations, from Cafe Thuy Duong to Thuy Duong Printing and then to the Vabe Cafe for four days, before Luu registered it as Cafe Dang.

Luu used a university credit card to furnish the cafe, purchasing 24 chairs, six tables, a dozen black ashtrays, and a 6-inch cleaver from Economy Restaurant Fixtures in San Francisco. The items cost $1,043 with tax, and because the university had imposed a $500 limit on the credit card she used, Luu split the purchase into two payments, one for $500, the other for $475; she paid the $68 sales tax in cash. She also bought $618 of additional fixtures with the credit card, including draperies, place mats, and vertical blinds, from Anna's Linens in Colma. Luu's boss Morris Head signed off on all the credit card receipts.

Somewhere, somehow, Nancy Luu fits with the allegations of large- and small-scale embezzlement against her. However it's all but impossible to reconcile the calculating swindler who appears to show up on paper with the sweet, flirtatious young woman her colleagues say they knew at the university.

James Chung, a manager at Copy One Printing, knew Luu as the contact person for the legitimate work his copying service did for the Educational Opportunity Program. Chung blushes when he says he knew Luu only as a business acquaintance. "She was beautiful," he says, his face getting redder. "She had long, flowing hair down to her shoulders and a kind face. And she had a nice body." Chung says every time he saw her, she was wearing short skirts and low-cut blouses from Bebe, the clothing store. In fact her e-mail address was bebe@sfsu.edu. He says she told him that's where she buys all her clothes.

Actually, he acknowledges, he thought she was rich. She was driving a Nissan 500 ZX, he says, a $40,000 car. "I knew she couldn't be making that much money for the university working as a secretary, so I wondered where she was getting it."

When Chung views a photograph of Luu from her high school yearbook, he blushes again. "She looked so much more innocent then," he says.

According to his grand jury testimony, Paul Mendez became suspicious of Nancy Luu in February 1998, when she was sick and stayed home from work, and he noticed something odd on a student payroll sheet sitting on her desk. The form showed her brother, Vu Luu, making $12 an hour as a student assistant, a wage above the standard scale. Morris Head would have had to approve the higher salary; Head said he knew nothing about it.

That's when the two supervisors called in Deborah Walter, a detective with the SFSU campus police. Walter interviewed Mendez and Head, and began an investigation of Vu Luu's student records. The more she looked, the more she found. Soon the entire university police unit was involved, looking into Luu's requests for billing, the petty cash fund, the student assistants, and the university credit card. They called in the university's internal auditor and a handwriting expert to study the signatures on checks. They tracked checks to banks where they'd been deposited, and issued search warrants to pull account records. They cordoned off Nancy Luu's cubicle.

About The Author

Matt Isaacs

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