An Orange County priest who runs a Vietnamese TV station has been accused of sexually assaulting the host of one of his programs.
The Rev. Joseph C. Nguyen owns and operates the Vietnamese Broadcasting Service, or VBS, which features QVC-style programming as well as religious services. In March, Nguyen was sued by Tram Ho, a former host of “Fight Price on Television,” a jewelry auction show.
Ho, a former beauty queen, alleges that Nguyen made repeated and unwanted sexual advances, smothered her with hugs and kisses, and once tried to force himself on her in the VBS offices.
“Father Joseph justified his sexual advances by explaining to Plaintiff that although he was a Catholic priest, he had sexual desires and needs like any other man,” the suit alleges. “Father Joseph likened his sexual desires to that of the needs of the Catholic Church to generate income — both being the realities of survival. Moreover, Father Joseph counseled Plaintiff that everyone sinned, but that confessions would absolve him and her of their sins.”
Reached by phone, Nguyen referred questions to his attorney. The attorney, William Levin, said the claims were “fabricated.”
“We look forward to our day in court,” Levin said. “There’s no merit to this.”
Nguyen serves as a parochial vicar at St. Anne Catholic Church in Santa Ana. The suit also names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange as a defendant, accusing the church of failing to adequately supervise Nguyen. The suit contends that Nguyen used his position in the church to establish good will in the Vietnamese community, allowing him to gain the trust of women and advance his business interests.
“He portrays his work as the charitable work of the Catholic Church, but is motivated by money, power, and sex,” the suit alleges.
Levin said that the Diocese had placed Nguyen on administrative leave pending an investigation. A spokesman for the Diocese said he could not comment on personnel matters, but did deny the allegations.
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange vehemently denies the claims asserted against it by Ms. Ho,” said the spokesman, Ryan Lilyengren. “In light of the pending litigation, the Diocese cannot comment further other than to note that it will defend itself in court, where it is confident that justice will prevail.”
The claim arises from a long-standing conflict between VBS and a rival firm, Nutrivita. Both companies distribute herbal supplements targeted at the Vietnamese community. Both also operate Vietnamese-language broadcast TV channels, which carry advertising for the supplements.
In 2013, Nutrivita sued VBS and Nguyen in federal court. The suit alleges that VBS offered a joint cream, JN-7 Best, which infringed on Nutrivita’s trademark for a similar product, called Arthro-7. That lawsuit was dropped in December 2015.
Ho says she was fired from VBS in the spring of 2016, after repeatedly refusing Nguyen’s advances. She then went to work for Nutrivita’s TV channel, KVLA.
According to VBS, Ho proceeded to host a copy-cat auction show, called “Diamond at a Surprise Low Price.” VBS filed its own infringement suit in August 2016, accusing Nutrivita and KVLA of mimicking the auction format, in which jewelry was sold off from cheapest to most expensive. The suit claims that the KVLA show also used some of the same vendors, a similar time slot, the same technician, and the same host. VBS also accused Ho of stealing customer lists from VBS as well as other trade secrets.
Levin said that some customers are so confused that they will call VBS in response to KVLA’s ads.
“They’re trying to put our client out of business,” Levin said. “They’ve been stealing employees from the company, doing a lot of bad stuff, and finally our client went after them and filed this suit.”
Attorneys for Nutrivita did not return calls seeking comment. The company appears to be owned by Jenny Do and her husband Tuong Nguyen, neither of whom responded to messages. Tram Ho, who is represented by Nutrivita’s lawyers, also could not be reached for comment.
Levin said that Ho’s harassment complaints did not come up until after VBS filed its trademark suit.
“They’re using this lady, who made no complaints about any of the stuff she’s saying, not to the church, not to HR,” Levin said. “Nobody knew anything about this.”
Ho first raised her harassment allegations in January, in a counterclaim to the VBS trademark suit. U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney dismissed the counterclaim on March 1, saying that while the allegations were “deeply concerning,” they belonged in state court. The state court action was filed on March 24.
Speaking for the Diocese, Lilyengren said, “Just as Ms. Ho’s case was dismissed in federal court, the Diocese anticipates a similar result at the state court.”