WASHINGTON – Phat Ngoc Tran, 35, pleaded guilty today in San Diego to conspiring to participate in a racketeering enterprise, the "Tran Organization," in a scheme to cheat at least 12 casinos across the United States and Canada out of millions of dollars, Acting Assistant Attorney General Rita M. Glavin of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt for the Southern District of California announced today. Tran admitted that he and his co-conspirators unlawfully obtained up to $2.5 million during card cheats.
A three-count indictment was returned May 22, 2007, and unsealed in the Southern District of California on May 24, 2007, charging Tran and 13 others each with one count of conspiracy to participate in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise; one count of conspiracy to commit several offenses against the United States, including conspiracy to steal money and other property from Indian tribal casinos; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment also charged five separate individuals each with one count of conspiracy to commit several offenses against the United States, including conspiracy to steal money and other property from Indian tribal casinos; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In his plea agreement, Tran admitted that on numerous occasions between approximately October 2002 and July 2006, he participated in gambling cheats together with other alleged members of the Tran Organization at casinos in the United States and Canada. Tran admitted to targeting at least 12 casinos in the racketeering conspiracy, including:
According to the indictment, the defendants and others executed a "false shuffle" cheating scheme at casinos in the United States and Canada during blackjack and mini-baccarat games. The indictment alleges that members of the criminal organization bribed casino card dealers and supervisors to perform false shuffles during card games, thereby creating "slugs" or groups, of un-shuffled cards. The indictment also alleges that after tracking the order of cards dealt in a card game, a member of the organization would signal to the card dealer to perform a "false shuffle," and members of the group would then bet on the known order of cards when the slug appeared on the table. By doing so, members of the conspiracy repeatedly won thousands of dollars during card games, including winning up to $868,000 on one occasion.
The indictment also alleges that the members of the organization used sophisticated mechanisms for tracking the order of cards during games, including hidden transmitter devices and specially created software that would predict the order in which cards would reappear during mini-baccarat and blackjack games.
An indictment is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Tran’s sentencing is scheduled for June 1, 2009, in San Diego before U.S. District Judge John A. Houston. At sentencing, Tran faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the racketeering conspiracy charge. Tran agreed to a personal money judgment in the amount of $180,000, which will be entered by way of a preliminary order of forfeiture. He also acknowledged that the restitution that he may be ordered to pay by the court at sentencing is not limited by the forfeiture amount. Tran was also charged in Orillia, Ontario, Canada, for his admitted cheating activities at Casino Rama.
A second indictment has alleged that 11 additional defendants conspired to commit offenses on behalf of the Tran Organization. A one-count indictment, unsealed in the Southern District of California on Sept. 11, 2008, charged Bryan Arce; Don Man Duong; Hogan Ho; Thang Viet Huynh; Outtama Keovongsa; Leap Kong, a/k/a Lanida Kong; Qua Le; Khunsela Prom, a/k/a Danny Prom; James Root; Darrell Saicocie; and Dan Thich each with one count of conspiracy to commit several offenses against the United States, including conspiracy to steal money and other property from Indian tribal casinos, and conspiracy to travel in interstate and foreign commerce in aid of racketeering.
To date, 20 defendants, including Tran, have pleaded guilty to charges relating to the casino-cheating conspiracy: Phuong Quoc Truong; Anh Phuong Tran; Martin Lee Aronson; Liem Thanh Lam; George Michael Lee; Tien Duc Vu; Son Hong Johnson; Barry Wellford; Willy Tran; Tuan Mong Le; Duc Cong Nguyen; Han Truong Nguyen; Roderick Vang Thor; Sisouvanh Mounlasy; Navin Nith; Renee Cuc Quang; Ui Suk Weller; Phally Ly; and Khunsela Prom. These defendants admitted to targeting, with the aid of coconspirators, a combined total of approximately 24 casinos during the course of the conspiracy.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s San Diego Field Office; the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; the San Diego Sheriff’s Department; and the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Gambling Control. The investigation has received assistance from federal, state, tribal and foreign authorities, including: the Ontario Provincial Police; the National Indian Gaming Commission; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington; FBI Resident Agencies in Gulfport, Miss., Tacoma, Wash., and Toledo, Ohio; the Indiana State Police; the Rumsey Rancheria Tribal Gaming Agency; the Sycuan Gaming Commission; the Barona Gaming Commission; the Mississippi Gaming Commission; and the Washington State Gambling Commission.
The prosecution of the case is led by the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section (OCRS). Department of Justice Trial Attorneys Joseph K. Wheatley, Robert S. Tully and Gavin A. Corn are prosecuting the indictment in San Diego.