– A priest in California has been sentenced to three years in prison for bank fraud and ordered to pay restitution after he put over $1.4 million in church donations into his bank accounts.
Father Hien Minh Nguyen, 57, was ordered to pay $1,880,000 to the Diocese of San Jose and the IRS, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.
In March, Nguyen was found guilty in federal court on 14 counts of bank fraud.
Prosecutors said he deposited 14 checks from parishioners into his personal account while he was pastor. The donations, made between 2005 and 2007, had been intended for the Vietnamese Catholic Center in San Jose, CBS San Francisco reported in March.
Nguyen had served as the center’s director from 2001-2011. He has also served as a pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, now called Our Lady of La Vang.
The priest previously pleaded guilty to tax evasion for the years 2008-2011.
Nguyen’s lawyer argued the priest only put the money in personal bank accounts because he thought he would protect the assets of the community better than the diocese.
“How else can we explain why he failed to spend a dime of the money and leave it all as deposits in his own bank accounts,” Jay R. Weill wrote in the sentencing memorandum.
Court records show Nguyen was able to repay the diocese from the untouched deposits, and Weill said the IRS would be repaid from the bail money posted after the priest was arrested.
Nguyen has been a priest of the Diocese of San Jose since 1995. The priest has been on a personal leave of absence since December 2013. He was born in Vietnam and fled to the U.S. as a boy during the Vietnam War.
Crux staff contributed to this report.