How did donations, supposed to be delivered to New York City to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy, instead get deposited into the Vietnamese Interfaith Council‘s bank account in Little Saigon? The group held a press conference to answer that question, and admitted to a mistake but also accused the Buddhist abbot who raised the issue of being a troublemaker.
The presser actually opened with the group trying to kick out two women, including an editor of Nguoi Viet Daily News who loudly proclaimed that she had the right to be there because she donated money too. Check out the beginning of the video here.
The money had been raised at a Little Saigon walk-a-thon fundraiser in December, organized by the Interfaith Council and their friends, including Neil Nguyen, a.k.a. Nguyen Xuan Nghia, the President of the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California, which is now trying to raise funds for the Tet Parade.
The walk-a-thon raised more than $200,000 total, including $27,000 from the Bao Quang Buddhist temple in Santa Ana. The temple gave the organizers two checks for $27,000, with the understanding that Thich Quang Thanh, the abbot of the temple, would travel to New York City with the group to hand all the donations to the Mayor’s office.
When Thich Quang Thanh opened the temple’s bank statement last week, however, he found out the temple’s checks had been cashed out on Dec 18.
Just a few days earlier, after getting the city’s conditional approval for the Tet Parade, Neil Nguyen had gone on Little Saigon TV assuring donors that the checks from the Bao Quang temple had been put aside, undeposited, to be delivered to New York. Nguyen was on TV to raise the $60,000 deposit for the parade.
Unbeknownst to TV audience, the checks, payable to the order of Mayor’s Fund to Advance NY City, had already been deposited in a bank account at Wells Fargo.
After Abbot Thich Quang Thanh raised the issue, organizers scrambled to find an explanation. Bishop Van Tran, head of the Interfaith Council, blamed Wells Fargo in an interview with Nguoi Viet Daily News. “They should have returned the check,” the bishop said, apparently referring to the fact that the check was not made out to the Interfaith Council.
The group also said they wanted to wait until after the Feb. 10 Tet Parade to deliver the money to New York, which raised in many minds a serious suspicion: Was Neil Nguyen planning to use the Sandy aid money for the Tet Parade deposit, hoping that money raised from the parade can be paid back into the aid fund for delivery to New York? If so, even if the numbers may work out, it would still be embezzlement.
“Why wait until after the Tet Parade?,” the abbot asked, apparently joining in the suspicion. He wanted the money delivered now, and alerted Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen. She then wrote a letter to Distict Attorney Tony Rackaukas, asking him to investigate, an escalation that Thich Quang Thanh did not think necessary.
Finally, the organizers held the presser where they admitted their mistake but affirmed the money’s still there, commingled in the Interfaith Council’s account.
And then Bishop Tran, of the Reformation Evangelical Lutheran Church in Westminster, also accused Quang Thanh of “bearing false witness” and being “destructive” – which prompted a reporter from Viet Bao Daily News to ask him to stop it.
Nothing was said of why Neil Nguyen was still assuring people the check had been set aside. The group did, however, deny rumors that the Vietnamese American Federation were trying to use part of the walk-a-thon’s $200,000 towards the Tet Parade deposit.