Buddhist Ponzi Scam Alleged in Los Angeles

By TIM HULL, Courthouse News, July 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES, USA -- A self-proclaimed Buddhist monk collected $7 million in phony land investments from Vietnamese-Americans who thought they were helping build religious shrines and charities, the 15 recent immigrants claim in Superior Court.

The plaintiffs, some of them elderly and all followers of Buddhism, which eschews worldly wealth and ambition, say they contributed more than $800,000 to a Ponzi scheme run by Tuan Nguyen, Kiet Nguyen, Robert E. O'Leary and others.

The 15 say that the Nguyens and O'Leary claimed to be devout Buddhists was central to the scheme. They say Tuan Nguyen sold himself to groups of "unsophisticated émigrés" as a Buddhist monk whose followers were "spiritually advanced practitioners of the creed."

"A Buddhist monk is presumed to be one who has progressed far along the path towards total liberation from selfish sentiments and cravings," the complaint states, adding that the plaintiffs "relied on the defendants to act in an ethical, spiritual manner that would accord with their common Buddhist teachings."

Though Nguyen said he would use donations to build "Buddhist shrines, temples and community centers," the more than $7 million he collected over two years went to pay other investors who had been promised unrealistic returns, and into the defendants' own pockets, according to the complaint.

The 15 plaintiffs, many of whom invested more than $50,000 in the scheme, want a jury trial and their money back. They are represented by William Markham of Maldonado & Markham.