As a priest for the Diocese of San Jose, 57-year-old Hien Minh Nguyen funneled more than $1.4 million in church donations into his bank accounts over a five-year period, but the princely sum sat mostly untouched, according to court records.
Tensions that Nguyen believed existed between the Vietnamese Catholic community in San Jose and the Diocese reportedly were what drove his criminal conduct. He believed that he could make better use of the money for his parishioners than the Diocese.
Whatever his motivations were, Nguyen now faces time behind bars. On Tuesday, a U.S. District Court judge ordered him to serve three years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay back the embezzled money.
Jay R. Weill, Nguyen’s attorney, argued that his client should be sentenced to no more than 12 months and a day in prison. He pointed to his client’s work cleaning up “problematic situations” at the Vietnamese Catholic Center and helping Saint Patrick Cathedral erase an $860,000 deficit.
“For Father Hien, this has been a life-changing experience,” Weill wrote in his sentencing memorandum. “Criminal prosecution has damaged the very core of his well-being. He feels shame from the betrayal of his priestly vows. His self-worth and self-respect have been compromised and tarnished. Further, he is tormented every day with having let his family down, in particular, his younger siblings who have always looked up to him.”
Nguyen was ordered to pay roughly $1.9 million in restitution — $1.45 million to the Diocese and $435,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.
Because the embezzled funds sat largely untouched in his bank account, Nguyen has been able to fully repay the Diocese, according to court records. Weill said his client plans to use the $500,000 he posted as bail when he was arrested in 2015 to pay the IRS.
Full story at Mercury News.