OC Vietnamese Community Group Sued By Fired Whistleblowers For Illegal Retaliation
Has a prominent Little Saigon non-profit group been cheating?
Three former veteran employees who say they uncovered and complained about financial fraud, embezzlement and flagrant mismanagement at the Vietnamese Community of Orange County, Inc. (VNCOC) before they were fired have filed lawsuits claiming illegal retaliation.
The ex-employees--Donna Mai Le, the organization's senior accountant; Anh Nguyen, a manager and project director; and Lan Dinh, a citizenship services aide--claim the chairman of the board and executive director of the non-profit group conspired to falsify federal certification documents, stole free clinic services, used a VNCOC debt card to buy a swank Las Vegas casino suite and lavishly dine at Little Saigon restaurants, sought fake mileage reimbursements and thwarted honest auditing.
Le and Nguyen complained first to VNCOC insiders about the 2008-2011 conduct of board chairman Vy Truc Do and Executive Director Tricia Nguyen and, after encountering hostility, then to government officials. The two employee were subsequently fired. Dinh, who'd been listed as a potential witness for the whistleblowers, found herself "suddenly" going from a highly praised employee who'd received merit raises to rudely fired, according to the lawsuit filed in late February in Orange County Superior Court.
Richard N. Grey, the plaintiffs' Encino-based lawyer, noted in his complaints that California's Labor Code prevents employers from retaliating against employees who reveal violations of state or federal law.
The lawsuits claims that federal law requires that at least 51 percent of the VNCOC board be valid users of the group's Asian Health Center, but Do repeatedly falsified the list to dupe government auditors. It also alleges that Do submitted dubious mileage reimbursement documents for more nearly $3,600 in a four-month period and that he refused to comply with rules designed to prevent personal abuse of dining reimbursements at Little Saigon restaurants like Brodard Chateau. The ex-employees say Tricia Nguyen worked to cover up Do's acts by responding to the whistleblowing by restricting auditing access to the group's records.
Requests for comment from VNCOC officials were unsuccessful. The organization has not yet filed a formal response to the lawsuits. [UPDATE***: After this story was published, Tricia Nguyen told me that she is not aware of the lawsuits and will not comment.]
According to court files, Le's case has been assigned to Judge Gregory Lewis, Nguyen's case went to Judge James Di Cesare and Dinh's complaint landed in Judge Jamoa Moberly's court.
Given the parallel issues, I'm guessing one judge will eventually take control over all three cases.
Established in 1979, VNCOC provides more than a dozen services including health, citizenship, economic development and immigration to Orange County's massive Vietnamese refugee community.
--R. Scott Moxley (rscottmoxley at ocweekly dot com)
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