A Buddhist monk might be meditating behind bars following his arrest on allegations of embezzling at least $150,000 from a small temple in Lafayette and losing the money playing blackjack.
Federal authorities arrested Khang Nguyen Le, 35, on Saturday as he disembarked at the LaGuardia International Airport in New York, where he was scheduled for a short layover before continuing to Toronto, according to court documents filed in the case.
Le faces one count of wire fraud for allegedly gambling away the money at L’Auberge Casino in Lake Charles while serving as resident monk at the Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Southwest Louisiana’s small temple in south Lafayette off Johnston Street.
Le admitted a gambling problem to federal agents and said he would travel to the casino every two or three days, sometimes losing up to $10,000, according to the affidavit filed to support his arrest.
He told agents that he went alone, so as not to be seen by members of the close-knit Buddhist community.
“Le further stated that it was his practice to gamble in deserted spots at the casino in an effort to not be spotted by members of the congregation,” the affidavit states. “... Le stated that he knew the temples’ members would frown upon the use of their money at the casino.”
Le began gambling with temple funds in 2011, shortly after arriving at the temple in 2010 to live on the grounds and serve as resident monk for a modest stipend of $1,000 a month, according to court records.
Federal authorities said he had full access to the temple bank accounts, and the congregation took his word on temple finances.
“Le stated that the congregation never asked to see the account statements and that he would orally misrepresent account balances to the congregation,” the affidavit states.
How much Le stole from the congregation is unclear from court records, but he told federal agents that he took between $150,000 and $200,000 since 2011, sometimes putting winnings back in the temple’s bank account and other times stashing the money at his home for his next visit to the blackjack table.
A federal judge in New York on Tuesday ordered Le detained and referred the case back to Louisiana, where Le is expected to be transferred in the coming days.
The investigation began in early 2014, but federal authorities did not obtain an arrest warrant until Sept. 10 and made the arrest two days later after learning of Le’s travel plans.
Le’s attorney in Louisiana, Donald L. Mayeaux, of Eunice, said Le was making a trip to pick up a car in Canada and drive it back to a friend in Texas.
“He definitely was not trying to escape,” Mayeaux said.
Mayeaux said Le had stepped down from his role as resident monk at the temple after the investigation began.
No one could be reached by phone at the temple on Tuesday, and no one appeared to be on-site at the temple Tuesday afternoon.