A federal judge in Orange County this week punished a Vietnam War refugee--who eventually became an accomplished U.S. Secret Service (USSS) special agent assigned to protect former First Lady Nancy Reagan--for operating a bank-fraud scheme.
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter sentenced Richard Kyle Bui to one day of incarceration in the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons, deemed it already served and ordered the convicted swindler to undergo supervised probation for two years after paying a $100 fine.
Bui, who faced as much as a lenient six months in federal prison given his quick guilty plea, had previously lost his job as a result of his crime.
The solemn ex-agent appeared inside the swank confines of the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana with two out-of-state sisters, as well as his young daughter and son, and looked relieved even though his defense lawyer unsuccessfully asked that punishment be limited to just one year of probation "given his background."
"I regret everything that happened," a soft-spoken Bui told Carter, a Vietnam War combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1998. "I'm ready to move on."
According to court records, Bui's crime involved lying on a J.P. Morgan Chase Bank home-mortgage loan form and taking a series of other dishonest steps to mask his secret diversion of $26,000 from an unsuspecting family member.
The deceit resulted in the bank granting a loan for the purchase of a house in Riverside.
Assistant United States Attorney Dennise D. Willett, head of the Orange County branch of the Department of Justice, didn't push for any prison time for Bui because he won't likely find another law enforcement job, but she backed a three-year probation period while noting the defendant committed the crime in a lofty position of trust.
USSS officials discovered the scheme in August 2011 when other agency personnel caught Bui, who was in the midst of a bitter divorce, and two other Secret Service agents "transferring thousands of dollars [among] one another through their personal bank accounts," according to U.S. Department of Justice records reviewed by the Weekly.
Other than this episode, Bui's life story is generally one of notable achievement. From a large, poor family rocked by the collapse of his native country, the Vietnamese American showed his U.S. patriotism by enlisting in the U.S. Army as a teenager in Henderson, Louisiana. He honorably served in combat during Operation Desert Storm.
In 1999, Bui found his "dream job" in the Secret Service.
Ironic, given his crime, his first assignment was to the agency's financial fraud and counterfeit squad at the Los Angeles field office.
In 2003, the Secret Service assigned him to chase counterfeiters in Bangkok.
For four years beginning in February 2007, Bui helped protect the former First Lady in Los Angeles' ultra-exclusive Bel-Air. Photographs from the period show the agent watching protectively over the widow. In February 2011--the same month an unidentified Nancy Reagan Secret Service agent accidentally shot himself in the hip at a Ventura County Sheriff's Department shooting range--Bui found himself in a new assignment.
After landing in the USSS's less than glamorous Riverside County office, Bui was assigned to perform routine advance duties for occasional presidential trips to Southern California and once gave a counterfeit-detection presentation to the Norco Area Chamber of Commerce.
Carter--one of the most respected, seasoned judges in California--is known for his toughness as well as his compassion.
"If you're doing well [complying with probation orders], you'll find I'm your biggest cheerleader," the judge told Bui. "If not, I want to know right away."
Carter also said he might consider reducing the two-year probation terms next year if Bui fully obeys rules--including not possessing a weapon, voluntarily surrendering to potential round-the-clock searches and using one bank account that can be readily inspected.
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If anyone is looking to hire someone with Bui's undeniable experience and skills, they might want to contact the ex-agent.
He says he's anxiously looking for a new job.