Donate to RNS

Six arrested in burglary of an Arkansas Buddhist temple, in what may be a nationwide spree

A string of Buddhist temple burglaries has taken place in the last month, including in Southern California, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

Marta Chicui, top from left, Francisca Velcu and Floarea Miclescsu. Voinea Gratiani Miclescu, bottom from left, Claudia Velcu and Narcisa Velcu. Photos courtesy of Benton County Sheriff

(RNS) — Six people were arrested this week and face charges of robbery, trespassing and third degree assault at a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Rogers, Arkansas, in what appears to be a growing pattern of break-ins and thefts at Asian Buddhist temples across the country.

The six arrested in Arkansas, five women and a man, were all described as natives of Romania. According to news reports, the Chùa Đức Viên Temple was initially visited on April 18 by four women who asked for prayers for a family member. One of the women then asked to use the restroom while another distracted the lone occupant of the temple, who asked the group to leave.

Two days later, five women and one man returned and forced their way into the temple, which is inside a house, according to the sheriff’s affidavit. One person in the house, identified as Hieu Nguyen, hid and called the police. She later fled the house while being chased. She was unharmed. Sheriff deputies apprehended the group as they drove away in a maroon van. 

Similar invasions have happened across the country, in which women typically enter the Buddhist temples and ask for prayer while accomplices then make their way to other rooms to steal cash donations, safety deposit boxes or other valuables.

Buddhist temple burglaries have taken place in Southern California, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina last month. Most of the burglaries were at Asian American temples serving immigrant Buddhists from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. 

At a Lao Buddhist temple in Phoenix, a group of women entered on April 8 asking a monk for prayers. While the monk was attending to them, other women walked around the temple, entered two monks’ bedrooms and stole a total of $1,500, the Arizona Republic reported.

The six arrested in Arkansas are Marta Chicui, Francisca Velcu, Floarea Miclescu, Voinea Gratiani Miclescu, Claudia Velcu and Narcisa Velcu.  At least one of the suspects, Florarea Miclescu has a previous felony conviction for robbery in California. He was also arrested in Arizona for illegally entering the U.S., the sheriff’s affidavit says. 

Prosecutors haven’t filed formal charges against the six but they are scheduled to be arraigned June 7.