Priest convicted of diverting donations

A Roman Catholic priest who once ran the Vietnamese Catholic Center for the Diocese of San Jose was convicted in federal court Tuesday¬†of 14 counts of bank fraud for diverting parishioners’ donations into his personal bank account.

Hien Minh Nguyen, 57, was found guilty by U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman of San Jose, who conducted a nonjury trial on the charges in February.

The donations, which were made between 2005 and 2007, were intended for the Vietnamese Catholic Center and totaled $19,000.

Nguyen previously pleaded guilty before Freeman in August to four additional counts of evading taxes for the tax years 2008 through 2011. He admitted during the plea that he diverted donations to his personal account during those years and failed to pay taxes on the proceeds.

Freeman will sentence him for both sets of convictions on June 30.

The maximum penalty for each bank fraud count is 30 years in prison. The tax evasion counts each carry a possible maximum sentence of five years.

Nguyen has been a priest with the diocese since 1995 but has been on a personal leave of absence since Dec. 6, 2013, according to diocese communications director Liz Sullivan.

He directed the Vietnamese Catholic Center from 2001 to 2011 and was also a pastor at St. Patrick’s church, now known as Our Lady of La Vang, Sullivan said. She declined to comment further.

Nguyen was born in Vietnam and escaped to the United States as a boy during the Vietnam War, according to defense papers filed in court. He was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in April 2015.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose encompasses Santa Clara County.