A Buddhist monk accused of using a Lafayette temple’s money to fund a gambling habit pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court and will be sentenced on June 27.
Khang Nguyen Le, the 38-year-old former presiding monk of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Southwest Louisiana Inc., pleaded guilty before Judge Patrick Hanna in Lafayette to one count of wire fraud.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines, three years of supervised release and an order to repay the temple its money. Judge Donald E. Walter will sentence Le in Shreveport.
Le’s plea is an admission that he withdrew the temple’s cash from an ATM at Baton Rouge’s L’Auberge Casino, including one $4,280 withdrawal that caught the attention of the federal government, according to the factual stipulations of Le’s plea presented in court.
Thursday’s hearing was his third attempt to enter a guilty plea, after the Vietnam native, who does not speak English, indicated in prior hearings that he did not fully understand the charges against him.
He appeared in court this time with both English-speaking and Vietnamese-speaking attorneys as a Vietnamese translator coordinated his conversation with the judge.
Le earned a $1,000 monthly stipend while presiding over the Buddhist association’s temple on Bourque Road from 2010 to October 2014, when the government opened an investigation into his misuse of temple funds.
Le was in charge of the temple’s three bank accounts and withdrew money to fund his casino trips, saying he sometimes returned the money to the accounts.
Prosecutors estimate Le misused more than $263,000 of the temple’s money, although they say the total amount of the temple’s losses is unclear.
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