In Norfolk, Priest Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement
By Louis Hansen
January 19, 2012
|Joseph Quoc Hai-Nguyen admitted to taking the money from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond between 2003 and 2008. |
A former priest of two Vietnamese Catholic churches received a suspended prison sentence Thursday after he was convicted of embezzling$84,450 from the diocese.
Joseph Quoc Hai-Nguyen was found guilty of four counts of felony embezzlement and made full repayment to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Hai-Nguyen, 66, will not serve time in prison as long as he meets the terms of his probation.
Hai-Nguyen led Our Lady of La Vang in Norfolk and Our Lady of Vietnam in Hampton between 2003 and 2008, court records state. During his court appearance Thursday, Hai-Nguyen gave the diocese a cashier's check for the full amount of the loss.
Hai-Nguyen entered an Alford plea, which means he did not admit guilt but acknowledged the commonwealth had enough evidence to convict him at trial. He returned from Texas, where he retired, to face the charges, court records state.
Hai-Nguyen's attorney, Robert Morecock, said his client was remorseful. "He wishes he had been more careful with booking matters," Morecock said. Hai-Nguyen had no prior criminal record, he said.
Prosecutor John Dunlap said the diocese agreed with the sentence. "This is a substantial amount of restitution," he said.
Sarah Rabin, director of finance for the diocese, said the money would be returned to the two churches.
Steve Neill, spokesman for the diocese, said audits are conducted when leadership changes in a parish to safeguard charitable donations. The diocese includes 152 parishes in Virginia, he said, adding that financial improprieties are rare.
Hai-Nguyen operated both churches from a parish rectory in Norfolk, according to a report filed with the court. The priest controlled the checking accounts and financial records, the report says.
After Hai-Nguyen retired from the diocese in October 2008, a routine audit of the churches' financial records found suspicious expenditures at both parishes, the report says. The audit revealed unusual payments, including living costs paid directly to the pastor and salary checks higher than authorized, the report says.
The Norfolk church has about 300 members, said Kim Lieu Huynh, a church secretary at Our Lady of La Vang, said. It stopped meeting for three months after the financial troubles were discovered, she said, but has since recovered.
Louis Hansen, 757-446-2341, firstname.lastname@example.org