SAN JOSE -- Dozens of victims from the local Vietnamese community, swindled out of money they thought would go toward funeral expenses, gathered in Judge Jerome Nadler's courtroom Friday to see a once-trusted businessman sentenced to three years in prison.
Davie Ba Ngo, 53, and his former assistant Stephanie Tuyet Le, 32, were "genuinely remorseful" at the sentencing, said Santa Clara County prosecutor Georg Behrens, and apologized to those who attended.
Ngo pleaded no contest in January to felony charges of embezzling more than $200,000 as head of the Concerned Members Committee, a defunct company that collected fees from hundreds of local Vietnamese families -- money that was supposed to ensure death-related expenses were covered for elder relatives.
"A lot of the elderly victims probably didn't have the recourse to get life insurance like a lot of people who have lived in this country their whole lives," Behrens said. "(They) joined CMC in order to achieve peace of mind that the costs of their own funerals would be covered."
He added that there was an added hurtful element because victims had faith in a company within their own community.
"Many emphasized a damage to the trust that the institution would stand by them," Behrens said. "They pointed to a moral loss, a loss of confidence."
Members of the Concerned Members Committee paid a nominal fee of $35 a month for years. Depending on how long they contributed, the promised payouts ranged from $6,000 to $14,000.
Because of Ngo's embezzlement, heirs weren't given the contractual funds and had to cover funeral expenses some other way. While both Ngo and Le have been ordered to pay restitution, Behrens said many of the victims in court were concerned about whether they will ever see it.
Le was given six months of jail and probation for one count of felony embezzlement.
Her lawyer, Christopher Welsh, said she "feels really remorseful about everything that happened."
"I believe the outcome was just and fair in light of all the facts," he said. "Mr. Ngo was manager at CMC and I think his actions were the catalyst behind everything. (Le) felt she had to do what the boss was telling her to do."
He said he didn't know what his client was thinking at the time the embezzlement was happening, but "she meant no harm to the community and wants everyone to know that very much."
Ngo's attorney could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.