WASHINGTON – The co-founder of a criminal enterprise known as the “Tran Organization” pleaded guilty today in San Diego to conspiring to participate in the organization’s scheme to cheat casinos across the country out of millions of dollars, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy for the Southern District of California.
Van Thu Tran, 45, entered her guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony J. Battaglia, subject to final acceptance of the plea by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston.
A three-count indictment was returned in San Diego on May 22, 2007, and unsealed on May 24, 2007, which charged Van Thu 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 her plea agreement, Van Thu Tran admitted that in approximately August 2002, she, along with co-conspirators Phuong Quoc Truong, Tai Khiem Tran and others, created a criminal enterprise defined in the indictment as the Tran Organization, based in San Diego and elsewhere, for the purpose of participating in gambling cheats at casinos across the United States. In her plea agreement, Van Thu Tran also admitted that she and her co-conspirators unlawfully obtained up to $7 million during card cheats. As part of her plea agreement, Van Thu Tran agreed to the forfeiture of her interests in various assets, including jewelry.
“Today’s guilty plea by the co-founder of the Tran Organization marks the final chapter for a group that targeted as many as 29 casinos in the United States and Canada in their card cheating scheme,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “Using false shuffles, specially developed computer programs, concealed microphones and transmitters, and a web of co-conspirators, Van Thu Tran and her co-conspirators obtained up to $7 million during card cheats. With the exception of two fugitives, every member of the organization has now been convicted. As this case shows, our prosecutors and agents will work relentlessly with federal, state, local and foreign authorities to dismantle organized criminal enterprises like the Tran Organization.”
At sentencing, scheduled for April 11, 2011, Van Thu Tran faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture of certain assets and payment of restitution to the victims.
The investigation of the Tran Organization’s alleged casino-cheating conspiracy has led to the filing of three separate indictments. The charges contained in the indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the three indictments, 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 indictments allege 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 unshuffled cards. The indictments also allege 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 several hundred thousand dollars on one occasion.
The indictments also allege 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 blackjack games.
To date, 42 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges relating to the casino-cheating conspiracy, including: Van Thu Tran, Phuong Quoc Truong, Tai Khiem Tran, Anh Phuong Tran, Phat Ngoc Tran, Martin Lee Aronson, Liem Thanh Lam, George Michael Lee, Tien Duc Vu, Son Hong Johnson, Barry Wellford, John Tran, 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, Khunsela Prom, Hop Nguyen, Hogan Ho, Darrell Saicocie, Bryan Arce, Qua Le, Outtama Keovongsa, Leap Kong, Thang Viet Huynh, Don Man Duong, Dan Thich, Jimmy Ha, Eric Isbell, Brandon Pete Landry, James Root, Jesus Rodriguez, Jason Cavin, Nedra Fay Landry, Connie Holmes and Geraldo Montaz. These defendants admitted to targeting, with the aid of co-conspirators, a combined total of approximately 29 casinos in the United States and Canada during the course of the conspiracy, including:
1) Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Miss.;
2) Casino Rama, in Orillia, Ontario, Canada;
3) Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Conn.;
4) Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Miss.;
5) Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, La.;
6) Horseshoe Casino and Hotel in Tunica;
7) Isle of Capri Casino in Westlake, La.;
8) Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Ind.;
9) Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville, Conn.;
10) Palace Station Casino in Las Vegas;
11) Resorts East Chicago Hotel and Casino in East Chicago, Ind.;
12) Sycuan Casino in El Cajon, Calif.;
13) Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino in Brooks, Calif.;
14) Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash.;
15) Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi, Miss.;
16) Argosy Casino in Baton Rouge, La.;
17) Trump 29 Casino in Coachella, Calif.;
18) Isle of Capri Casino in Bossier City.;
19) Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, Calif.;
20) Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, Calif.;
21) Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif.;
22) L'Auberge du Lac Casino in Lake Charles, La.;
23) Nooksack River Casino in Deming, Wash.;
24) Barona Valley Ranch Casino and Resort in Lakeside, Calif.;
25) Caesars Indiana Hotel and Casino in Elizabeth, Ind.;
26) Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas;
27) Harrah’s Casino in Lake Charles;
28) Golden Moon Casino in Choctaw, Miss.; and
29) Viejas Casino in Alpine, Calif.
Two other defendants, Ha Thuy Giang and Tammie Huynh, pleaded guilty to tax offenses stemming from the investigation, and Khai Hong Tran admitted to the offenses alleged in a 2007 U.S. indictment when he pleaded guilty to casino-cheating offenses in Canada.
On Dec. 15, 2010, Mike Waseleski, a former casino card dealer, was found guilty by a federal jury in San Diego for his role in the Tran Organization’s cheating scheme to steal approximately $1.5 million from Resorts East Chicago Casino. Waseleski’s sentencing is scheduled for March 28, 2011, in San Diego before U.S. District Judge John A. Houston.
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). OCRS Trial Attorneys Joseph K. Wheatley and Robert S. Tully are prosecuting the case in San Diego.