Former Placentia CFO gets 25 years in prison for embezzling more than $ 5 million – Orange County Register

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SANTA ANA – A former director of financial services in the city of Placentia was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Friday for embezzling more than $ 5 million from the resource-strapped municipality.

Michael Minh Nguyen has accepted an offer from the court demanding that he admit dozens of crimes, including those for embezzlement and money laundering, and agrees to pay around $ 10 million in fines and $ 2.6 million. restitution dollars.

“Do you understand that you owe this money to the town of Plaisance?” Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary S. Paer questioned Nguyen about the restitution, noting that the deal would be “set in stone.”

“Yes,” Nguyen replied.

Assistant District Attorney Marc Labrèche helped the city recover around $ 3 million of the embezzled money. At one point, insurance was supposed to bring in an additional $ 1 million.

The prosecutor noted that Nguyen, 34, had benefited from a period of rotation in the financial services department of Placentia, which he led on an interim basis. He was arrested in April.

Placentia city administrator Damien Arrula said at the hearing that he and other city leaders are still working to regain the trust of residents and erase the “black spot” left by Nguyen on the community.

“What perhaps hurts me the most is that you, Mr Nguyen, grew up here and spent most of your professional career in this field,” Arrula told the court on Friday. “It was your house. It was our home. And you took a torch for it.

Rudy Loewenstein, Nguyen’s lawyer, said after court proceedings prosecutors overcharged his client and the sentence was too harsh. Had the case been tried, Nguyen could have faced up to 100 years in prison if he had been found guilty on all counts.

“I thought the judge’s offer was excessively high compared to other cases,” Loewenstein said. “However, my client wanted to make a confession; he wanted to accept responsibility, so it was his choice.

With Nguyen’s conviction, prosecutors turned their attention to two other men – Michael McDonald, a top player in Las Vegas, and Herbert Trotter Jr., a financial executive from Los Angeles. Arrest warrants have been issued for both.

The two men are accused by prosecutors of having received part of the money stolen 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’s is accused of laundering nearly $ 750,000.

The district attorney’s office confirmed that it claimed the two men knew the money had been embezzled.

Nguyen found himself with little to show for the millions of dollars in embezzled funds, Labrèche said, after wasting the money on bad investments and bad bets. Nguyen was trying to help his parents, who had filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and faced debt of nearly $ 700,000.

“It’s not to downplay his conduct, but my client didn’t live the lifestyle of the rich and famous,” Loewenstein said. “One thing led to another, and it went overhead.”

According to previously released court records, a suspicious wire transfer to McDonald’s initially informed city officials, who were contacted by casino employees, of the embezzlement.

DA investigator Craig Koki, in an affidavit submitted to Orange County Superior Court last year, wrote that Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino employees were suspicious when McDonald’s tried to persuade them to agree a wire transfer from the city of Placentia, which he allegedly claimed. was for a “film project”.

A closer examination of the city’s books revealed suspicious wire transfers to a handful of other companies, including Trotter and the Talaton Group LLC. Trotter is a managing partner of Talaton Group, a Beverly Hills financial firm that helps raise capital for clients.

Last year, Trotter told a reporter from Register that Nguyen came to the business to get help raising funds for the nail salons his aunt wanted to open, as well as a possible real estate deal at Las Vegas. During the interview, Trotter denied being aware of any wrongdoing on Nguyen’s part.

Labreche said he was unable to say whether Nguyen is cooperating with the prosecutor’s office regarding the charges against McDonald and Trotter.

Following the embezzlement, city leaders took steps to strengthen its accounting systems. An anti-fraud hotline has also been set up to report suspected cases of fraud, waste or abuse by employees, contractors or vendors.

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