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Restaurateur Pleads Innocent to Arson Charges

January 26, 1988|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

A Garden Grove woman pleaded not guilty in federal court Monday to charges that she conspired to burn down her French-Vietnamese restaurant last year to collect the insurance money.

Nga Tuyet Nguyen, 37, owner of the former Au Bon Temps de Saigon Restaurant in Stanton, entered her plea in Los Angeles before U.S. District Judge Robert Kelleher, who set a March 15 trial date.

Nguyen was arrested last Thursday in Orange County after she was indicted on charges of arson, mail fraud and conspiracy in the Jan. 13, 1987, fire that destroyed the restaurant.

Police said three explosions started the blaze, which caused $150,000 damage to the restaurant building and equipment. No one was injured.

Claim Submitted

A claim was submitted to an insurance company, but the indictment did not specify the amount, if any, that Nguyen may have received.

If convicted, she could face up to 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine, Assstant U.S. Atty. Kendra McNally said.

A second defendant, Diep Lam Harris, 45, of Westminster, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson and mail fraud, McNally added.

Kelleher set an April 4 sentencing date for Harris, who could get a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Witnesses gave police the license number of Harris' car, which they said they had seen speeding away from the scene after the fire.

"When confronted by police, he admitted his involvement," McNally said.

The case is being handled by the U.S. attorney's office because of the charges of mail fraud and commercial arson involving interstate commerce, which are covered by federal statutes, McNally said.

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