Catholic Priest Prisoned for Tax Evasion

A Catholic Priest from the Roman Catholic Diocese based in the San Jose, California area was sentenced to 36 months in prison for bank fraud and tax evasion. The priest, Father Hien Minh Nguyen, 56, admitted to stealing money from parishioners over the course of four years. The money was donated to the Diocese of San Jose from 2008 to 2011.

Father Nguyen admitted to depositing the money into his own personal bank account. In addition, he admitted that he committed tax evasion by not reporting the cash to his income tax preparer. The Father also neglected to keep records of the stolen donations and filed false income tax returns that didn’t include it.

In addition to the prison sentence he received, Father Nguyen was ordered by the court to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $1,883,883 in restitution and $434,518 to the IRS. The priest pled guilty to tax evasion and was convicted of bank fraud before a bench trial took place. Prior to Nguyen admitting to the crime and pleading guilty, the IRS paid him a visit and he made some revelations. Agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division unexpectedly paid him a visit and requested an interview. The agents told Father Nguyen that he was not legally obligated to do the interview or submit to any questions.

The priest seemingly had no idea just how bad his situation was and clearly made a mistake in agreeing to be interviewed. Instead of answering the agents’ questions, he should have courteously taken their business cards and told them to speak with his attorney. When he talked, the agents immediately noted that Father Nguyen gave them conflicting and inconsistent responses. When the IRS staff questioned him about that, he became flustered and simply asked if he could take a break. Amazingly, even after he took that time, the priest resumed answering the IRS agents’ questions.

Again, Nguyen gave the agents answers that were inconsistent and simply didn’t make sense. It was clear to the IRS staff that he was lying. Nguyen’s attorney later claimed that the agents had tricked him or coerced him into speaking. However, in spite of all the tactics the lawyer made to try to have the statements his client had willingly given omitted, the court acknowledged that the IRS agents did what they were required to and that Father Nguyen had not been tricked or coerced.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you are visited by IRS Criminal Investigation Division Special Agents, it is a criminal matter. You are not legally obligated to answer any questions posed by IRS agents and you should immediately contact an attorney.

Additionally, the Fifth Amendment is in place to protect you against such a situation. You have the right to not self-incriminate. If you believe that answering a few questions can hurt you, stay silent. Otherwise, the IRS can easily build a criminal case against you, even if you are nothing more than a witness.

Early on during IRS criminal investigations, agents may tell a person that he or she is a witness. That may lead the individual to believe it’s safe to answer questions. However, in reality, as the investigation goes on, a witness can actually become a target of the investigation. If you are approached by an agent, ask for his or her business card and politely state that you don’t wish to answer any questions. Tell the agent that your attorney will contact them.