News and Press Releases

Nationwide Conspiracy to Cheat Casinos by Bribing Employees

May 24, 2007

WASHINGTON – Federal grand juries in Seattle and San Diego have indicted 24 defendants on charges related to an alleged racketeering enterprise and a scheme to cheat casinos across the country out of millions of dollars, United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jeffrey C. Sullivan announced today.

Two indictments were unsealed in the Western District of Washington naming 12 defendants in related conspiracies to cheat tribal gaming establishments. Many of the defendants are also named in an indictment returned in the Southern District of California. According to the indictments, from in or about March 2002, through the date of the indictment, the defendants formed and participated in a racketeering enterprise by cheating at gambling at casinos across the United States. The indictments lists 18 casinos that were allegedly targeted by members of the conspiracy, including 10 casinos that are owned and operated by Indian tribes. The indictments allege that members of the conspiracy repeatedly won thousands of dollars during card games – up to $868,000 on one occasion.

These defendants were named in the indictments unsealed today in the Western District of Washington: PHUONG QUOC TRUONG, MARTIN ARONSON, GEORGE LEE, SON HONG JOHNSON, HA GIANG, all of San Diego, California, VAN TRAN, of Canada and THONGSOK SOVAN, and PHEAP NORNG of Western Washington. A second indictment names these additional defendants TIEN DUC VU of San Diego, and LEVI SETH MAYFIELD, KASEY JAMES McKILLIP, and JACOB DYSON NICKELS of Western Washington.

The first indictment, returned under seal by a Seattle grand jury in February 2006, alleges a 2003 scheme to steal more than $1 million from the Emerald Queen Casino near Fife, Washington. According to the indictment, the defendants and others executed a “false shuffle” cheating scheme at the Emerald Queen Casino during mini-baccarat games. The indictment alleges that members of the criminal organization bribed casino card dealers to perform false shuffles during card games, thereby creating “slugs” of un-shuffled cards. Members of the group would then bet on the known order of cards when the slug of cards appeared on the table. This twelve count indictment charges conspiracy, Theft of Funds from a Gaming Establishment on Indian Lands, and Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property.

The second indictment, returned under seal in March 2007, charges the defendants with Conspiracy and four counts of Theft of Funds from a Gaming Establishment on Indian Lands in connection with a scheme to steal from the Nooksack River Casino near Deming, Washington. In October 2005, VU and LEE approached three casino employees and paid them to facilitate and perform a similar “false shuffle” technique in order to cheat the casino at mini-baccarat. Using this scheme the indictment alleges the conspirators stole more than $90,000 from the Nooksack River Casino operated by the Nooksack Indian Tribe.

Seven of the defendants indicted in the Western District of Washington have also been indicted in the Southern District of California. The three-count indictment returned in San Diego, charges PHUONG QUOC TRUONG, VAN THU TRAN, MARTIN LEE ARONSON, GEORGE MICHAEL LEE; TIEN DUC VU, HA GIANG and SON HONG JOHNSON, among others, 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.

Six of the defendants, including PHONG QUOC TRUONG, were arrested on criminal complaints this week. The defendants who reside in the Western District of Washington will be summoned to court for arraignment on the charges on June 1, 2007, and June 7, 2007. Two additional defendants were arrested in Canada in connection with a related cheating scheme in Ontario, Canada.

The conspiracy charge relating to commission of several offenses against the United States carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Theft from a Gaming establishment on Indian Land and Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In the Western District of Washington the case is being investigated by the FBI and the Washington State Gambling Commission with assistance from the Puyallup and Nooksack Tribal Gaming Agencies. In California, 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 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; and the Mississippi Gaming Commission. 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. U.S. Department of Justice trial attorneys Gavin A. Corn, Robert S. Tully, and Joseph K. Wheatley are involved in the case. In the Western District of Washington the cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney J. Tate London.

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.

For additional information on the Western Washington cases, please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office at (206) 553-4110.

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