Placentia residents express anger after official arrested, accused of embezzlement

- People in Placentia were shocked when they learned a city employee was accused of stealing more than $4 million of their money. That shock turned to anger at a council meeting Tuesday night.

Resident Jane Thatcher, said, “I think we need to make some changes, either recall, or you all need to resign.”

Thatcher was joined by other angry Placentia residents calling on the mayor, city manager and two city council members to step down. 

The explosive meeting follows the arrest of the city’s finance manager, Michael Nguyen, who was arrested for allegedly embezzling $4.3 million. 

“How in the world did you all let this man do this seventeen times without any oversight?” Thatcher questioned.
Nguyen was arrested last Thursday.

Investigators said he made 17 wire transfers from city accounts over the last year.

The largest transfer totaled $1.5 million dollars, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

“All were saying at this point is that he was appropriating it for himself and some others,” Susan Kang Schroeder, Orange County District Attorney, said. “We’re not saying what he used it for.”

But residents claim they’ve learned Nguyen tried wire funds to a Las Vegas casino and that’s when the city was alerted to wrongdoing.

“If it were not for the honest Las Vegas casino we still wouldn’t know about the embezzlement today,” one resident said to the council.

City leaders told residents Nguyen developed a sophisticated financial system to embezzle the money without anyone noticing.

“The city administrator left in February of 2015 and the wire transfers started in April,” former mayor, Greg Sowards, said. “I think Mike saw an opportunity that the oversight had been disturbed.”

The council voted to have an independent audit of the city’s finances.

Leaders didn’t respond to calls to step down, but Mayor Jeremy Yamaguchi said in a prepared statement, “tonight I’m outraged by this dishonorable act of corruption of use of power and misuse of public funds.”

Nguyen is being held on $4.3 million dollars bail, his arraignment is scheduled for next month.

If convicted on all 17 felony counts, Nguyen could spend up to 29 years in prison.

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