Ft. Lewis captain charged with stealing $690K

Ft. Lewis captain charged with stealing $690K »Play Video
Artist's sketch of Michael Nguyen in the courtroom Thursday.
TACOMA, Wash. - A Fort Lewis-based Army captain is facing federal theft and money laundering charges after he allegedly stole $690,000 in government funds while stationed in Iraq.

According to a federal grand jury indictment released Thursday, Capt. Michael D. Nguyen, 28, stole the money from an emergency fund designed to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs in Iraq.

A special agent who investigated the case called Nguyen's actions a betrayal of the country and to every man and woman in uniform.

"As a member of the military you take an oath, the oath of office, to defend and protect - not to line your own pockets for own personal gain," said said IRS Special Agent Kenneth Hines.

In a Thursday afternoon hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak, Nguyen pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Nguyen, a West Point graduate assigned to the 4th Stryker brigade, allegedly stole the money while serving as battalion civil affairs officer in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, where he had access to a safe where the emergency funds were kept.

Nguyen's method was simple, according to the indictment. He allegedly grabbed bricks of crisp, uncirculated $100 bills from the safe and mailed the cash - still in its original wrappers - to his home in Beaverton, Ore.

After Nguyen returned to the States, he opened new accounts at several banks and deposited the fresh Ben Franklins into those accounts, the U.S. District Court indictment says.

Once the cash was deposited, Nguyen allegedly used the money to buy a 2008 BMW M3 for $70,263 and a 2009 Hummer for $43,538, paying for the purchases with cashier's checks drawn on the newly opened accounts.

He also spent thousands of dollars on other personal property, including computers, electronics, game consoles, furniture and several flat-screen TVs, according to the indictment.

The IRS became suspicious and began investigating.

"Anytime someone is spending $1,000 and it's in sequential dollar bills, (you ask), 'Where did that money come from?'" Hines said.

Nguyen's relatives say the IRS recently raided the Army officer's Lakewood and Oregon homes. But it wasn't until his arrest Thursday that they realized why.

"I just thought he saved a lot of money," said one cousin, Khiem Nguyen.

The thefts allegedly took place between April 2007 and February 2009, U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut said in a statement.

Nguyen has been charged with theft of government property, money laundering and illegally structuring financial transactions.

The maximum penalty for each of the charged crimes is 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000.