UPDATE, MARCH 22, 3:53 P.M.: Trang Thu Pham committed hate crimes with her alleged thefts and vandalism of statues at a Santa Ana Buddhist temple, according to charges filed today by the Orange County District Attorney’s office. The 45-year-old Santa Ana resident faces one felony count of grand theft and one felony count of vandalism of a religious property with a sentencing enhancement allegation for committing a hate crime. If convicted, she faces up to six years in state prison, according to prosecutors, who will next square off against Pham in Santa Ana court on March 30. The OCDA described the property that was stolen as three separate gold Buddha statues.
ORIGINAL POST, MARCH 22, 6:26 A.M.: When Trang Thu Pham was busted in January and quickly convicte
d and jailed for throwing glass bottles at statues of Buddha outside Hong Tich Buddhist Temple in Santa Ana, the 45-year-old is said to have explained her problem was not with the tubby sage adored by 500 million or so followers but with someone associated with that place of worship.
So the question one must ask after Pham’s most recent arrest is who pissed her off at Chua Truc Lam Yen Tu Buddhist Temple?
A pair of two-foot tall Buddhist statues were stolen from the temple at 1924 W. 2nd St. on Feb. 26. Surveillance video revealed a woman walked onto the grounds and removed two statues from their outdoor shrines, according to the Santa Ana Police Department.
Spy cameras also recorded the same woman stealing a third statue on March 6, say police, who pegged the value of each idol at $1,000.
Someone from the temple recalled the earlier incident at Hong Tich, looked up media coverage, scanned Pham’s booking photo, matched it against the woman on the latest surveillance video and made a match.
And called the cops.
To recap the earlier incidents, between Dec. 16, 2014, and Jan. 6 of this year, Hong Tich at 4821 W. 5th St., logged eight glass bottle smashings that damaged statues. Surveillance video captured the same woman giving the bottles the heave-hos at least three of those times, at different times of the day.
Police released that video, which a security officer at a Costa Mesa drug store had seen before recognizing Pham was a shopper there. Police arrived to arrest her on suspicion of felony vandalism to a place of worship, which is what she was convicted of before being sentenced to 268 days in jail.
Pham was also placed on five years of formal probation. She apparently got cut loose early from lockup but, according to police, she never reported to the probation department and was subject to a no bail warrant for allegedly violating parole.
If it could be proven that Pham was a statue stealer in addition to being a statue defacer, she could be on the hook for finishing her jail sentence and then some. But when it came to the latest incidents, cops would have to find her first.
On Friday, detectives were told Pham was in the 900 block of South Harbor Boulevard, where—let me quickly look it up—damn, there is yet another Buddhist temple nearby. Anyway, the detectives picked up Pham and placed her in custody for the no bail probation violation warrant.
After an interview at the station regarding the current allegations, she was booked into Santa Ana Jail on suspicion of two counts of grand theft as well as the no bail warrant.
Should she wind up incarceration in the Buddhist wing of a detention facility, she better hope her cellmates practice the first precept.
The first precept: Non-violence toward sentient life forms.