(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 trend of break-ins and robberies at Asian Buddhist temples across the country.
The six people arrested in Arkansas, five women and one man, were all described as being from Romania. According to reports, the Chùa Đức Viên temple was initially visited on April 18 by four women who requested prayers for a family member. One of the women then asked to use the toilet while another distracted the sole occupant of the temple, who asked the group to leave.
Two days later, five women and a man returned and forced their way into the temple, which is inside a house, according to the sheriff’s affidavit. A person in the house, identified as Hieu Nguyen, hid and called the police. She then fled the house while being chased. She was unharmed. Sheriff’s deputies apprehended the group as they drove away in a brown pickup truck.
Similar invasions have occurred across the country, in which women typically enter Buddhist temples and ask for prayers while accomplices then move on to other rooms to steal cash donations, safes or other valuables.
Robberies of Buddhist temples have taken place in Southern California, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina last month. Most of the break-ins took place 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 walked in on April 8 to ask for prayers from a monk. While the monk was tending to them, other women walked around the temple, entered the rooms of two monks and stole a total of $1,500, the Arizona Republic reported.
The six people 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 prior California robbery conviction. He was also arrested in Arizona for illegally entering the United States, according to the sheriff’s affidavit.
Prosecutors have not filed formal charges against the six, but they are expected to be brought to trial on June 7.