Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent credit card charges to customers could not be blamed on lousy business acumen or cruddy hiring practices, a federal judge said Monday before handing down a lengthy prison sentence to a west suburban businessman.
“This was not a poor businessman’s decision,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said. “This is just theft — in a good suit — but it’s theft.”
Coleman then sentenced Viet Nguyen, 42, of St. Charles, to 8 years in prison. She also deemed him a flight risk, revoked his bond and ordered him to start serving the sentence immediately.
Mike Davis, a former business partner who reported Nguyen to authorities, smiled and chewed gum as federal marshals made Nguyen take off his pink tie and hand over his belt and Louis Vuitton wallet before taking him into federal custody.
“He’s exactly where he belongs,” Davis said.
Numerous customers complained to authorities after noticing unauthorized charges on the credit cards they used at one of several of Nguyen’s companies, including Expedite Media Group. The bulk email advertising firm was his main business and issued most of the fraudulent charges. His office was in Aurora.
Between 2008 and 2012, hundreds of victims lost an average of about $600 — a sum that may not be jaw-dropping, conceded Coleman. “But there are people who are paying $10 minimum payments on credit cards because that’s all they can afford,” she said.
“Many customers canceled their credit cards because they wanted the charges to stop,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Stern. Some customers would receive charges from one of Nguyen’s companies that they’d never even heard of, Stern said.
Coleman noted that not everyone with a credit card checks their statements for fraudulent charges and said “we have to be kept safe” as paperless business transactions continue to become the norm.
Nguyen, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion, was ordered to repay $1.5 million to the government and more than $300,000 to his victims. Although the total loss to victims who received unauthorized charges on their credit cards was estimated to be between $1 million and $2.5 million.
“This didn’t have to happen. It’s pure greed,” said Coleman, who added that Nguyen — a father of three who has no criminal history — has a supportive family that includes a father and sister who are both doctors and a brother who is an attorney.
Nguyen’s bookkeeper Adelina Miguel, who faces the same charges but cut a deal with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence, said Monday that Nguyen had his companies pay for personal expenses so they wouldn’t pop up on the radar of the Internal Revenue Service. According the indictment, those expenses included payments for a Rolls Royce, Bentley, Hummer, Ferrari, Land Rover and two Audis.
“The defendant was capable of making money without stealing it,” Stern said. “He could have run the company legitimately.”
In asking the judge for leniency, Nguyen said, “I became a bad manager and I allowed my employees and business managers to engage in dishonest practices and I allowed myself to do the same.”