Priest’s Guilty Plea to Tax Evasion Shows Dangers of Not Knowing Your Rights

No one is above the law when it comes to paying taxes, as Father Hien Minh Nguyen, 56, discovered. A priest for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose, Father Nguyen pled guilty to four counts of tax evasion following an Internal Revenue Criminal Investigation interview late this summer.

Witness Becomes Target

Father Nguyen’s admittance to his tax evasion resulted when the IRS Criminal Investigation Division appeared at his door. Taken off guard, he agreed to meet with them and answer their questions. The agents informed the priest of his rights and that he was under no obligation to provide information to them or answer their questions. However, it is not uncommon for IRS questioning to lead to the witness becoming the target of the investigation.

Rights to a Lawyer

Father Nguyen unknowingly waived his guaranteed right against self-incrimination when he agreed to speak to the investigators. He was well within his rights to ask for a business card and inform them that a lawyer would be in touch. This would have allowed time to reach out to a lawyer with experience in dealing with IRS legal issues to protect his interests. This approach is still considered cooperating and could have helped him avoid misunderstandings or an inadvertent admittance of guilt.

Willful Tax Evasion

Over four years, Father Nguyen had misappropriated money donated to the Church between 2008 and 2011. The money was deposited into his personal bank account. It was during this period that he admitted he also willfully evaded taxes on the stolen money. Despite the fact he pled guilty to the tax evasion charges, he did not plead guilty to bank fraud.

When faced with IRS legal issues it is important to know your rights. In this case, agreeing to speak to the agents was a poor judgement call on Father Nguyen’s part. This is the time to call a lawyer who understands tax law and who can protect you from answering questions that could incriminate you. In fact, even an innocent person is best off to call a tax lawyer to assist in such situations.

The Scammahorn Law Firm believes in protecting the rights of American citizens, and ensuring they are well represented when faced with potential IRS legal issues. If you have been contacted by the Internal Revenue Criminal Investigation Division, we invite you to call us at (903) 595-1000 to discuss your situation.