Former Placentia finance manager gets 25 years in prison for embezzling more than $5 million
Former finance manager Michael Minh Nguyen, 34, Irvine, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for embezzling more than $5 million from Placentia
SANTA ANA – A former city of Placentia financial-services manager was sentenced Friday to 25 years in prison for embezzling more than $5 million from the financially strapped municipality.
Michael Minh Nguyen accepted a court offer requiring that he admit to dozens of felonies, including those for embezzlement and money laundering, and agree to pay about $10 million in fines and $2.6 million in restitution.
“You understand you owe the city of Placentia this money?” Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary S. Paer asked Nguyen about the restitution, noting that the accord would be “set in stone.”
“Yes,” Nguyen answered.
Deputy District Attorney Marc Labreche has helped the city recover around $3 million of the embezzled money. Insurance at one point was expected to bring in $1 million more.
The prosecutor noted that Nguyen, 34, had taken advantage of a time of turnover in Placentia’s financial-services department, which he was running on an interim basis. He was arrested in April.
Placentia City Administrator Damien Arrula, during the hearing, said that he and other city leaders are still working to regain the trust of residents and erase the “dark stain” Nguyen left on the community.
“Perhaps what pains me the most is that you, Mr. Nguyen, grew up here and spent most of your professional career in this area,” Arrula said in court on Friday. “This was your home. This was our home. And you took a torch to it.”
Rudy Loewenstein, Nguyen’s attorney, said after the court proceeding that prosecutors had overcharged his client, and that the sentence was too harsh. Had the case gone to trial, Nguyen could have faced up to 100 years in prison if convicted of all of the charges.
“I thought the offer by the judge was grossly high in comparison to other cases,” Loewenstein said. “However, my client wanted to make an admission; he wanted to accept responsibility, so it was his choice.”
With the conviction of Nguyen, prosecutors have turned their attention to two other men – Michael McDonald, a Las Vegas high roller, and Herbert Trotter Jr., a Los Angeles financial executive. Arrest warrants have been issued for both.
Both men are accused by prosecutors of receiving some of the stolen money from Nguyen. Trotter is suspected of laundering about $1.2 million of the embezzled funds, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, while McDonald is accused of laundering nearly $750,000.
The District Attorney’s Office confirmed that it was alleging that the two men knew the money had been embezzled.
Nguyen was left with little to show for the millions of dollars in embezzled funds, Labreche said, having squandered the money on poor investments and bad gambling bets. Nguyen was trying to help his parents, who had gone through Chapter 13 bankruptcy and faced nearly $700,000 in debt.
“It’s not to minimize his conduct, but my client was not living the lifestyle of the rich and famous,” Loewenstein said. “One thing led to another, and he got in over his head.”
According to previously released court records, a suspicious wire transfer to McDonald originally tipped off city officials, who were contacted by casino employees, to the embezzlement.
D.A. Investigator Craig Koki in an affidavit submitted to the Orange County Superior Court last year wrote that employees at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino were suspicious when McDonald tried to persuade them to accept a wire transfer from the city of Placentia, which he allegedly claimed was for a “film project.”
A closer look at the city books found suspicious wire transfers to a handful of other businesses, including Trotter and the Talaton Group LLC. Trotter is a managing partner for the Talaton Group, a Beverly Hills financial company that helps raise capital for clients.
Trotter last year told a Register reporter that Nguyen had come to the company to get help raising money for nail salons his aunt wanted to open, as well as a potential real estate deal in Las Vegas. During the interview, Trotter denied knowing of any wrongdoing by Nguyen.
Labreche said he was unable to comment on whether Nguyen is cooperating with the DA’s office in regards to the charges against McDonald and Trotter.
In the wake of the embezzlement, city leaders took steps to strengthen its accounting systems. A fraud hotline was also established for reporting suspected cases of fraud, waste or abuse by employees, contractors or vendors.
Article From:- https://www.ocregister.com