Charges: Man swindles Buddhist temple out of $184K

Ramsey County prosecutors allege a Buddhist temple in St. Paul was taken advantage of in the middle of money laundering and a major fentanyl trafficking operation.

Jason Geschwind, 53, from Minneapolis has been charged with two counts of felony theft by swindle.

New court documents show he formed a relationship with the monk who leads Monk Niem Phat Buddhist Temple, which is at the corner of Dale Street and Front Avenue in St. Paul, and used the monk for financial gain. Temple leaders paid Geschwind to renovate the temple building beginning in 2018, but he never intended to complete the work. Instead, he either cashed the checks himself or received cash kickbacks by allowing his longtime friend, Lyndon Swarn, to use the checks to launder money from an illegal drug operation. In 2021, Swarn was sentenced to 19 years in prison for fentanyl trafficking after law enforcement seized 34,000 pills laced with fentanyl.

Documents show in 2020, federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration were investigating Swarn, and they learned Geschwind contributed to the operation by laundering money for Swarn. Federal agents contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which began investigating Geschwind's financial activities. Investigators learned he directed a monk from the temple to write checks for more than 184,000 for temple renovations.

(FOX 9)

Geschwind told temple leaders his friend, Swarn, would re-roof the building, but that never happened, according to court documents. When they asked multiple times why the work wasn't getting done, he would tell them not to worry or blame it on the pandemic. Investigators believe Swarn has never been involved in any roofing or construction.

The money was deposited into Swarn's personal account and federal agents learned he used part of it to travel to Hong Kong and pay for an illegal marijuana farm, according to court documents.

It's unclear, though, what Geschwind did with that cash because investigators say he doesn't practice conventional banking. They believe he pays for most expenses using cash, so his finances are off the books. Court documents show he has had several failed endeavors in senior housing and real estate, plus many outstanding debts. He filed for personal bankruptcy in 1994, and one of his businesses filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

Temple leaders last heard from Geschwind in 2019 when they realized his deception. Court documents show they had to ask members of their temple both in St. Paul and around the world for donations in order to complete the renovation.

The monk who runs the temple told FOX 9 he trusted Geschwind, and Geschwind took advantage of that. Court filings show the monk moved from South Vietnam to the United States in 2006 to open a Buddhist temple. He settled in Minnesota in 2013 and established a temple at the corner of Front Avenue and Milton Street. A few years later, he planned to build a new building nearby and a congregant introduced him to Geschwind, believing he could help with the project.

The monk ended up buying a building a few blocks away, the current temple building on Dale Street, and Geschwind assured him that monk the money he was paid would go toward renovating the new building. Geschwind began acting as a contractor, but there was never a written contract, with temple leaders acting on an honor system, according to court documents. 

Geschwind also bought the temple's original property on Front Avenue from them with the agreement that they would loan half the money to him and in exchange, he would install an elevator at their new building. However, investigators said he never did.

Jail records show Gerschwind was arrested Thursday morning and booked into Ramsey County Jail.

Court documents show Geschwind is not currently in custody but has strong international ties and travels frequently. FOX 9 reached out to Geschwind for comment Thursday evening but did not hear back.