Buddhist Monk Asked To Bless Home, Then Lured Into Extortion Plot

By MATTHEW STURDEVANT, Hartford Courant, October 10, 2010

Vernon, CA (USA) -- A Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was asked by a young woman to bless a new home became ensnared in an extortion plot that involved exchanging money in a parking lot at Westfield Trumbull Mall.

Thuy Nguyen, 33, of Wayne Street in Bridgeport called a monk on Sept. 28 at the Phaphoa Buddhist Temple on Prospect Street in Vernon to come to a Trumbull home, said Trumbull police and Jennifer Wheeler who coordinates the Buddhist temple's English language program.

"It's more cultural than religious, but they have a sort of tradition similar to, like, Feng Shui where certain orientations of homes are favorable and some are not, and, so, sometimes the parishioners ask the monks to go and look at a home just sort of say, 'What do you think about this?' and sometimes they ask the monks actually to bless the home," Wheeler said.

Once inside the house, the monk asked to use the bathroom, Wheeler said. He opened what he thought was the bathroom door, but instead was a closet and inside was a man with what looked like a gun and a video camera, Wheeler said. The monk was detained inside the apartment by Tuan Nguyen, 32, of Leffert Road in Trumbull, Trumbull Police said. Tuan and Thuy are not related but share a common Vietnamese surname, police said.
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The man in the apartment videotaped something that would have been compromising to the monk, Wheeler said. Wheeler would not say what was videotaped, but did say it was nothing salacious, just compromising to a monk's code of conduct.

The monk was allowed to leave the apartment after agreeing to pay a sum of $30,000 in exchange for the videotape at a later date, said Trumbull Police Deputy Chief Michael A. Harry. The suspects presumably intended for the monk to get $30,000 from the temple, Harry said. After leaving the apartment, the monk contacted police.

A money exchange was arranged with the assistance of the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bridgeport Narcotics Task Force. The money exchange was planned for Friday, Oct. 8, at an empty part of the parking lot at Westfield Trumbull Mall, away from pedestrians and cars, police said. Secret Service provided money for the handoff, police said.

Thuy Nguyen was arrested at the scene and Tuan Nguyen was arrested on a warrant without incident, police said. Tuan Nguyen is charged with first-degree larceny, second-degree threatening, and first-degree unlawful restraint. He was detained on a $30,000 bond. Thuy Nguyen is charged with first-degree larceny, second-degree threatening, and first-degree unlawful restraint. She was detained on a $10,000 bond.

However, Harry, the Trumbull police deputy chief, said police will ask the prosecutor to dismiss charges against the woman who apparently was duped into the plot. Tuan Nguyen intended to blackmail Thuy Nguyen and the monk, Harry said.

Phaphoa Buddhist Temple is one of three Vietnamese Buddhist temples in Connecticut and serves about 60 or 70 people on a regular basis, and up to 400 during a holiday, Wheeler said. Connecticut does have other non-Vietnamese Buddhist temples, she said.