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Press Release

Co-Founder of Casino-Cheating Criminal Enterprise Sentenced to 36 Months in Prison for Targeting Casinos Across the United States

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON – Van Thu Tran was sentenced today in San Diego to 36 months in prison for her role in a scheme to cheat casinos across the country out of millions of dollars, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy for the Southern District of California.

In addition to her prison sentence, Van Thu Tran, 47, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston in the Southern District of California to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $5,753,416 in restitution, payable to several casinos.  The court ordered the forfeiture of her interests in various assets, including jewelry and bank accounts.

Van Thu Tran entered her guilty plea in San Diego on Jan. 14, 2011.

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 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.

The investigation of the Tran Organization led to the filing of three separate indictments in 2007, 2008 and 2009.  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.

According to court documents, the defendants and others executed a “false shuffle” cheating scheme at casinos in the United States and Canada during blackjack and mini-baccarat games.  Court documents also show 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.  Court documents also show 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.

Court documents also show 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: 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:

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, Miss.;
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;
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, defendant 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.

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 Southern District of California; 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 case is being prosecuted in San Diego by Criminal Division Organized Crime and Gang Section Trial Attorneys Joseph K. Wheatley and Robert S. Tully.

Updated September 15, 2014

Press Release Number: 12-1777