San Jose priest pleads guilty to tax evasion, admits stealing parishioners' donations
SAN JOSE, Calif. (BCN) - A Roman Catholic priest who formerly ran the Vietnamese Catholic Center for the Diocese of San Jose pleaded guilty in federal court today to four counts of evading taxes by failing to report donations he stole.
Hien Minh Nguyen, 56, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose.
He pleaded not guilty to 14 additional counts of bank fraud and is due to return to Freeman court on Aug. 23 for a status conference on those charges.
Freeman did not set a sentencing date for the tax evasion convictions, which each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Caroline Ciraolo, head of the U.S. Justice Department's Tax Division in Washington, D.C., said Nguyen admitted during his plea that over a period of four years, he stole money his parishioners donated to the diocese, deposited it in his personal bank account and failed to pay income taxes on it.
The four tax evasion convictions were for the tax years 2008 through 2011.
The pending bank fraud charges concern 14 deposits totaling $19,000 that Nguyen allegedly made to his bank account between 2005 and 2007.
The money was allegedly parishioners' donations to the Vietnamese Catholic Center.
Ciraolo, a principal deputy assistant U.S. attorney general, said in a statement, "Father Nguyen stole money from his parishioners and filed false returns with the Internal Revenue Service to evade his income tax obligations.
"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," she said.
Nguyen was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in April 2015. At the time, a diocese spokeswoman said he had been on personal leave of absence since Dec. 6, 2013. He directed the Vietnamese Catholic Center from 2001 to 2011, she said.