Buddhist Monk Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Wire Fraud and Stealing Funds
U.S. District Judge Donald Walter sentenced Khang Nguyen Le to 30 months in prison for one count of wire fraud in the theft of $263,463, which Le was alleged to have gambled at a nearby casino. The big shock is that Khang Nguyen Le is a Buddhist monk from the Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Southwest Louisiana Inc. on Borque Road in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Khang Nguyen Le was the president of the Buddhist association from 2010 until October 2014. Being president gave Le a $1000-a-month stipend and access to the association’s three bank accounts. Bank records show that Le made several transactions from January 2013 to August 2014, in which he is alleged to have taken $263 thousand in cash from the Buddhist association’s funds.
Le is accused of lying to other members of the association about the group’s funds, in order to keep his gambling secret. When he was brought before Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna’s court in February 2016, Le admitted to withdrawing the funds from the L’Auberge Casino ATM in order to gamble at the location.
The L’Auberge du Lac Resort and Casino is located in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is 74 miles from Lafayette.
ATM Transactions at the Casino
When an audit of the association’s accounts were performed, the transactions from a casino ATM machine raised red flags. It was not hard to figure out who was behind the illegal withdrawals, given Khang Nguyen Le’s sole access to the funds.
Further inquiries indicated Le sometimes withdrew money from bank tellers. He later told authorities that he gambled in less-frequented parts of the casino, in hopes of avoiding notice from those who visited his Buddhist temple.
30 Month Sentence
Despite Le’s lack of a criminal record, Judge Donald Walter decided to sentence him to 2 and 1/2 years of prison time, due to the nature of his crimes. The Buddhist monk is required to pay back the funds he stole from the coffers. Also, Judge Walter suggested Le might faced extradition back to his native Vietnam when he gets out of prison.
In his previous court appearances, Khang Nguyen Le tested the patience of judges and prosecutors alike. On two separate occasions, he made guilty pleas, only to recant or otherwise reverse the decision.
Pleaded Guilty and Then Recanted
Before Judge Patrick Hanna, Le admitted to wire fraud, only to reverse his position when he learned what he was admitting to. He said he could not understand how the wire fraud charges were applicable to his case. The charges stemmed from his use of the ATM to misappropriate temple funds.
In the same court appearance, Le refused to admit he had stolen from the temple. He stated that he sometimes paid back the shrine with speaking fees, as well as the money he made gambling.
Le said in a court statement, “My intent was never to steal money from the temple.”
In an earlier appearance before Judge Richard Haik, who presided over the case until his retirement in January 2016, Le’s guilty plea was rejected. It was determined by Judge Haik that the monk did not understand he was admitting to guilt. When the guilty plea was translated from English to Vietnamese, Khang Nguyen Le recanted. Even without a guilty plea, prosecutors were able to prove Le’s guilt from ATM records and positive identification of his appearances at the casino.
Arrest at LaGuardia Airport
Le was arrested by law enforcement in September 2015 at LaGuardia International Airport in New York City. The monk was on a stopover on his way to Toronto, said his attorney, David Mayeux. Mayeux said Le was on his way to Toronto to pick up a car from a friend. He was then supposed to drive the car to another friend in Texas.
Instead, officials arrested the monk at LaGuardia. The September arrests indicated state and federal authorities were on to the wire fraud and embezzlement before the Buddhist temple was.
Stepped Down in October 2015
Le continued in his role as president of the Buddhist association until October 2015, when the association began to do an internal investigation. It quickly became apparent that the monk had misappropriated funds.