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Leaders of O.C. group organizing Tet Festival accused of embezzlement

Two Vietnamese American youth leaders who helped to organize successful Tet Parade are accused of embezzlement

Two Vietnamese American youth leaders who helped organize the hugely successful Tet Parade are accused of embezzling more than $100,000 following an internal investigation, officials say.

Nina Tran, longtime president of the Union of the Vietnamese Student Assns. of Southern California, or UVSA, and Helen Nguyen, who worked as treasurer, are accused of taking nearly $118,000, according to a statement the group released Monday. Members of the nonprofit's executive board removed them from their voluntary posts over the weekend.

Concerns about Tran's management of UVSA surfaced during fiscal reviews of the 2013 Tet festival. That same year, the group moved the three-day event from Garden Grove to the Orange County Fairgrounds, having lost a bid to host the gathering after a financial dispute with city officials.

In November 2014, UVSA members confronted Tran and Nguyen, asking questions about a debit card used especially for the Lunar New Year event, their personal credit card payments and repeated ATM withdrawals, according to the statement.

The leaders were given four weeks to turn in proof of expenses, and when that request was not completely fulfilled, the board formed an oversight committee to conduct an inquiry.

That investigation ended April 24 and led UVSA officials to file a report with the Garden Grove Police Department and California's attorney general.

Capt. Ben Stauffer, a spokesman for the Garden Grove Police Department, said Monday that the agency did take a report Friday listing the group as the alleged victim of embezzlement.

News of the accusations rippled through the immigrant community.

"Really? Really! This is incredible. They are an amazing group of students who do so much for the community," said Tom Bui of Anaheim, who roams the popular festivals with local and out-of-state friends.

"I need some time to think this over," he said. "I hope this doesn't take away from the good work they have been involved in and that anyone responsible for fraud is justly punished."

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