6 Arrested in Burglary of Buddhist Temple, Possible Nationwide Spree

An organized wave of break-ins and thefts at Asian Buddhist temples is sweeping across the United States. Six people were arrested in May 2021 for charges ranging from robbery, trespassing, and assault on Asian Buddhist temples in Rogers, Arkansas.

Five women and a man were detained in Arkansas, who all identified as Romanian natives. The Chùa Đức Viên Temple was targeted initially on April 18 by four women asking for prayers on behalf of a family member. One woman in the group requested to use the restroom while another distracted the patron of the temple. They were asked to leave, according to a news report.

A few days later, all six suspects, five women and one man returned to the temple and forced themselves inside. One person, later identified as Hieu Nguyen, hid from them and called the police. Later she tried to evade the intruders but was pursued by the group. Luckily she was unharmed. The deputies captured the suspects as they attempted to flee in their van.

Similar burglaries are happening around the country at other Buddhist temples. The group will usually go inside the temple and ask for prayer services, while a few different group members will sneak around other rooms stealing cash donations or other valuable items while the occupant is being distracted. 

So far, these burglaries were carried out in Arizona, North Carolina, Southern California, and Oklahoma in April 2021. Most of these criminal endeavors occurred at Asian-American temples that serve Buddhist Immigrants from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka.

On April 8, a group of women entered a Lao Buddhist temple in Phoenix, Arizona, asking a monk for prayers. According to the Arizona Republic, while the monk was assisting them, the others violated the bedrooms of two monks, stealing about $1,500. 

The six suspects arrested in Arkansas are named: Marta Chicui, Fransisca Velcu, Floarea Miclescu, Voinea Gratiani Miclescu, Claudia Velcu, and Narcissa Velcu. At least one of the suspects, one of them, Florarea Miclescu, has a previous felony conviction for robbery in California. According to the sheriff’s sworn testimony, he was also arrested for illegally entering the U.S. 

The suspects are waiting for arraignment, scheduled for June 7th. 

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