WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury in San Diego has indicted 19 defendants on charges related to an alleged racketeering enterprise and a scheme to cheat casinos across the country out of millions of dollars, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Karen P. Hewitt announced today.
The three-count indictment, handed down in the Southern District of California on May 22, 2007, and unsealed today, charges Phuong Quoc Truong, also known as “Pai Gow” John and John Truong; Van Thu Tran; Tai Khiem Tran; Anh Phuong Tran; Phat Ngoc Tran; Martin Lee Aronson, also known as Martin Smith; Liem Thanh Lam; George Michael Lee; Tien Duc Vu; Son Hong Johnson; Barry Wellford; Willy Tran, also known as “Duy;” Ha Thuy Giang, also known as Thuy Ha Giang; and Han Truong Nguyen 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 charges Khai Hong Tran; John Tran; Tuan Mong Le; Nam Van To, also known as “Tommy;” and Duc Cong Nguyen 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.
According to the indictment, from in or about March 2002 through the date of the indictment, the defendants formed and participated in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise by cheating at gambling in casinos across the United States. The indictment lists 18 casinos that were allegedly targeted by members of the conspiracy, including 10 casinos that are owned and operated by Indian tribes.
According to the indictment, the defendants and others executed a “false shuffle” cheating scheme at some of the listed casinos 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” of un-shuffled cards. According to the indictment, 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 then members of the group would bet on the known order of cards when the slug appeared on the table. By doing so, the indictment alleges that members of the conspiracy repeatedly won thousands of dollars during card games – 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 baccarat and blackjack games.
“The subjects arrested and indicted colluded with casino dealers and engaged in a sophisticated card counting scheme to cheat casinos out of large winnings,” said Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser, FBI Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI will continue to cooperate with its local, state and federal partners to conduct joint investigations of organized criminal activities with the goal of disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting criminal enterprises that threaten the American economy and society.”
Philip N. Hogen, Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), stated, “The NIGC is pleased to have contributed to such a large-scale investigation involving a criminal network that cheated Indian casinos out of millions of dollars. This operation is a good example of the high-quality work tribal gaming regulators do in protecting fair play at their facilities. It also exemplifies the benefits of tribal, state, and federal investigators, and prosecutors coordinating efforts to identify and prosecute crimes against the tribal gaming industry.”
The racketeering conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The conspiracy charge relating to money laundering carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The conspiracy charge relating to commission of several offenses against the United States carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Also today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced that two federal grand jury indictments have been unsealed. The first indictment charges Phuong Truong; Van Tran; Martin Aronson; George Lee; Son Johnson; Ha Giang; Thongsok Sovan; and Pheap Norng, with violations relating to alleged card-cheating activity at the Emerald Queen Casino, in the vicinity of Tacoma, Wash. The second indictment charges George Lee; Tien Duc Vu; Levi Seth Mayfield; Kasey James McKillip; and Jason Dyson Nickels with violations relating to alleged card-cheating activity at the Nooksack River Casino, in the vicinity of Deming, Wash.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Diego Field Office, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, and the California Department of Justice’s Division 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; the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Gulfport, Mississippi Resident Agency; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi; the Indiana State Police; the Sycuan Gaming Commission; the Barona Gaming Commission; the Mississippi Gaming Commission; the Washington Gambling Commission; and others. The prosecution of the case is run by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, headed by Bruce G. Ohr, in Washington, D.C. Department of Justice trial attorneys Gavin A. Corn, Robert S. Tully, and Joseph K. Wheatley are involved in the case.
The Indian Gaming Working Group (IGWG) was established in February 2003 to combat crimes related to Indian gambling. The group is spearheaded by the FBI and includes the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General, the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Internal Revenue Service’s Tribal Government Section, the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Center, the Department of Justice, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Law Enforcement Services. The IGWG works to ensure the honesty and fairness of Indian gambling activity for visitors, and fights organized crime groups attempting to commit embezzlement and other scams.
An indictment is only a charge 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.
Parties that have information relating to the investigation may contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Diego Field Office at (858) 565-1255.