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St. Paul police find 'opium den,' arrest parents, remove 7 children

By Tad Vezner

When the children of a St. Paul couple reportedly stopped coming to school, St. Paul police investigated.

When two of those children said they were sleeping in what police called an "opium den" - complete with a haze of smoke and stench of charred drugs - authorities removed the seven children and arrested the parents.

Mark Sa Yang, 50, and Chao Xiong, 44, were charged Friday, April 6, with child endangerment and possession of codeine, a base of opium. Their children - ages 2 to16 - were placed in protective custody.

Police went to the couple's Payne-Phalen home Thursday after receiving word from truancy officials that some children who lived there were not attending school and there was a strong odor of opium coming from the house, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday.

Several children were playing in the yard when two officers arrived at the house in the 1200 block of Clark Street. They met Xiong near the entrance and told her they were there to check on the children's welfare. The complaint said the officers were asked to step onto the deck of the home to be better heard, at which point they smelled "a strong odor of opium coming from inside the house."
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Xiong said she wasn't sure whether Yang, her husband, was around. She then became uncooperative, the complaint said.

Officers looking into the truancy matter had been refused access to the home Wednesday. The complaint said that when officers asked again Thursday, "Xiong opened the door and began yelling, 'The police are here!'" Both officers then entered the home.

One officer, according to the complaint, heard a "loud commotion ... as if someone were concealing or destroying evidence" in a bedroom. They entered and found Yang.

"There was a thick haze of smoke in the air and the smell of burned opium was overwhelming," the complaint said.

Opium paraphernalia and a chunk of the drug "the size of a ping-pong ball" were in plain view, the complaint said.

The complaint repeatedly referred to the bedroom as an "opium den."

The rest of the house, the compaint added, "was dirty and unsuitable for a large family," with the back yard and basement littered with trash.

When asked to account for her children, Xiong couldn't come up with all their names or dates of birth, the complaint said, saying there were "too many kids for her to keep up with."

But her oldest son identified his siblings, adding that he wanted to move out, "but as the oldest he has to look out for his siblings."

The son said his parents frequently used opium. When police asked two of the other children - ages 5 and 4 - to take them to their bedroom, they went to the "den," the complaint said. A refrigerator containing milk for the couple's 2-year-old - who officers described as anemic - was also in the room.

The ball of drugs weighed 2 ounces and tested positive for codeine.

Yang told police that he used opium in his house and said he used it for medical purposes after being injured in Laos fighting for the United States during the Vietnam War era, the complaint said.

Yang and Xiong were in in the Ramsey County Jail on Friday night. Bail was set at $75,000 each.

Tad Vezner can be reached at 651-228-5461.


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