Msgr. Hien Minh Nguyen of the diocese of San Jose, Calif., was arrested April 18 in Florida on charges of tax evasion and bank fraud. He was on a personal leave of absence from ministry at the time of his arrest.
The 55-year-old priest appeared in a Fort Lauderdale court on Monday to face 14 charges of bank fraud and four counts of tax evasion. The San Jose Mercury News reported that the priest is expected to eventually face the charges in San Francisco federal court, where a grand jury indicted him earlier this month. If convicted, he could face up to 35 years in prison.
The indictment alleges that between 2005 and 2008, Nguyen deposited at least 14 checks, made out to the Vietnamese Catholic Center and totaling $19,000, directly into his personal account. He is also accused of failing to report $1.1 million of income to the IRS between 2008 and 2011.
San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath said on Monday that this was the first time, to his knowledge, that an allegation of this nature has been made against a priest in the diocese, which was founded in 1981.
The bishop also said he did not know how Nguyen had become the subject of an IRS investigation, of which the diocese was notified in October 2012. The IRS had requested that the diocese keep the investigation confidential. Nguyen took a personal leave of absence from ministry on Dec. 6, 2013.
Ordained in 1985, Nguyen had served as the diocese's judicial vicar from 2001 to 2008 before being named pastor of St. Patrick (now Our Lady of LaVang) Parish in San Jose in 2008. He served there until 2011, when he took a yearlong sabbatical. He also served as vicar for Vietnamese ministry and director of the Vietnamese Catholic Center from 2001 to 2011.
When he returned from his sabbatical, he was named parochial vicar of St. Nicholas Parish in Los Altos on July 1, 2012, a post he held until his leave of absence.
In his statement Monday, McGrath said the diocese had cooperated with the federal investigation and is "just now learning of their findings. When we learned of this investigation, the Diocese took immediate action to review financial trends during and after Monsignor Hien's tenure. We found no irregularities comparing those two timeframes."
He also said that during Nguyen's 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."
"We feel confident that the controls recommended by our auditors ensure that monies donated to the parish are properly put to use there," McGrath said. "We will continue our own scrutiny of the parishes' finances, and certainly learn more with the outcome of the IRS investigation."