LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — A Buddhist monk faces trial in March on charges he embezzled more than $200,000 from his Lafayette temple to feed a casino gambling habit.
Khang Nguyen Le was scheduled to plead guilty on Wednesday to wire fraud charges. But The Advocate reports that the plea agreement fell apart when Le told a federal judge that he couldn’t understand how the charges applied to his case.
“I can’t accept that,” Le said through a translator.
Le defended his actions during the hearing and denied he intended to take cash from the bank accounts for the Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Southeast Louisiana Inc.
“My intent was never to steal money from the temple,” Le told U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna.
Le served as the temple’s presiding monk from 2010 through October 2014, when he stepped down amid the investigation. His indictment last year said he withdrew money from temple accounts and used it for gambling at casinos in Lake Charles and elsewhere.
The indictment says Le lived and worked at the temple and earned a salary of $1,000 per month.
In a court filing last year, a federal agent said Le “admitted to having a gambling problem” and told investigators that he would spend up to $10,000 playing blackjack during his frequent trips to L’Auberge Casino in Lake Charles.
Le “said the church members would frown upon him even going to the casino if they knew; therefore, Le hid his gambling activity,” the agent wrote.
Le told investigators that he always went to the casino alone, and congregation members never asked to see bank account statements.
The agent said bank records showed Le had withdrawn nearly $375,000 from temple and personal bank accounts either at L’Auberge Casino or on days when he traveled to the casino.
Le was arrested in September at LaGuardia International Airport in New York after he got off a flight from Dallas, before he could board a flight bound for Toronto, according to court records. Le’s attorney, David Mayeux, has said his client was traveling to Canada to pick up a car for a friend and drive it down to Texas. (end)