Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Priest pleads guilty to tax evasion; steals money from parishioners

The Vietnamese Catholic Center's where Hien Minh Nguyen was director.
A PRIEST for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose pleaded guilty today (Aug. 9) to four counts of tax evasion and stealing from parishioners. 

Monsignor Hien Minh Nguyen, 56, admitted that over a period of four years, he stole money his parishioners donated to the Diocese and willfully evaded paying income taxes on the money he misappropriated each year from 2008 through 2011. He admitted that he deposited this money into his personal bank account, did not disclose this income to his return preparer, did not keep records of the donations he stole, and filed false income tax returns which did not report this money.

Nguyen also pleaded not guilty to bank fraud charges. Those charges are still pending.

“Father Nguyen stole money from his parishioners and filed false returns with the IRS to evade his income tax obligations,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General 
Caroline D. Ciraolo, head of the DOJ's Tax Division. “The department remains committed to holding all criminal tax offenders accountable for their illegal conduct, regardless of their profession. No one is above the law.”

Nguyen, former director of the Vietnamese Catholic Center for the Diocese of San Jose, was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Jose on bank fraud and tax evasion charges He was charged with 14 counts of bank fraud totaling $19,000 and for not reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in income between 2008 and 2011.

Sentencing on the tax evasion convictions has not been scheduled. Father Nguyen faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison and monetary penalties for each tax evasion conviction. 

Nguyen’s next scheduled appearance is a status conference on the bank fraud charges currently scheduled for Aug. 23. An indictment is merely an allegation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court. Father Nguyen pleaded guilty to the tax evasion charges. He has not pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges and remains presumed innocent of those charges.

In a statement, San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath said the diocese has been cooperating with federal investigators since October 2012. Nguyen has been on a leave of absence since December 2013. He was arrested April 18.

Msgr. Nguyen, who was ordained in 1985, served as the diocese’s judicial vicar from 2001 to 2008 before being named pastor of St. Patrick Parish, now called Our Lady of La Vang Parish in San Jose. He served at the parish until 2011 when he took a year-long sabbatical. He also served as vicar for Vietnamese ministry and was director of the Vietnamese Catholic Center from 2001 to 2011.

Bishop McGrath told The Valley Catholic, San Jose’s diocesan newspaper, that he was saddened by the arrest, noting that Msgr. Nguyen had been a diocesan priest for nearly 30 years and that in his years as pastor of St. Patrick’s, “he paid off previously accrued parish and school debts and created a strong foundation upon which to serve the community.”

The bishop said this was the first time, to his knowledge, that an allegation of this nature had been made against a priest in the diocese. He also wanted to assure diocesan Catholics that the financial health of the parish, school and the Vietnamese Catholic Center is in good shape.

“We feel confident that the controls recommended by our auditors ensure that monies donated to the parish are properly put to use there,” he said. “We will continue our own scrutiny of the parishes’ finances, and certainly learn more with the outcome of the IRS investigation.”