Posted on: May 27, 2022, 03:30h.
Last updated on: May 27, 2022, 10:46h.
California authorities have broken up several illegal gambling dens in Santa Ana as part of a far-reaching investigation. Suspects now face charges in connection with the recent raids.
A total of nine suspects were either apprehended or are still being sought on gambling charges or related crimes, such as extortion and drug trafficking, feds revealed this week.
The gambling joints generated thousands of dollars in profits each day, federal authorities claim. Numerous gambling devices were seized on Wednesday. Feds identified the California suspects who were apprehended.
They include Niem Ngoc Ha, also known as “Dung Body,” 46, of Fountain Valley. He allegedly opened and operated four illegal casinos. Mindy Bui, also known as “Thuy,” 36, of Westminster, allegedly managed the illegal venues. Honganh Thi Pham, also known as “Hong,” 40, of Garden Grove, also managed the casinos.
The three suspects and four others appeared in California federal court this week.
Authorities are still seeking two other suspects. One is Sammy Cardona, also known as “Peanut,” 36, of Santa Ana. He allegedly used “violence to protect defendant Ha’s illicit casinos,” according to a federal indictment.
The illicit gaming operations were either “nets” — venues in a commercial district — or “slaphouses” — those in residential neighborhoods in Orange County, prosecutors explained.
Ha was also charged with bribery. He allegedly paid $128,000 to the now-convicted, former Santa Ana Police Officer Steven Lopez.
Lopez allegedly tipped off Ha in September 2020 that Santa Ana police officers were planning to shut down one of his casinos. Lopez, who pleaded guilty in 2020 to accepting the bribe, is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 17.
The gambling investigation involved local, state, and federal authorities. The Orange County Asian Organized Crime Task Force played a key role.
The investigation led to three indictments. Among the charges in the indictments are drug trafficking, attempted extortion, and robbery of a small business. Money laundering is also suspected.
Illegal gambling is a particular concern since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, prosecutors said.
The number of illegal gambling dens has exploded during the pandemic, dramatically impacting the quality of life in many Orange County neighborhoods,” US Attorney for Central California Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement.
One of the indictments alleged two men extorted small businesses that were operating as nets. Vincent Randal Pimentel, 30, of Santa Ana, and Steven Gallegos Saenz, 39, of Whittier, allegedly robbed the businesses that refused to pay so-called “taxes,” federal authorities said.
Saenz would tell the proprietors he was with the “mafia,” authorities said. He then demanded payments.
In one instance on April 19, 2019, Saenz went to a Santa Ana video rental shop. The owner refused to pay the money.
Later that day, Saenz, Pimentel, and other suspects returned to the store. During an armed robbery, they stole three digital gambling machines, two computers, and about $3,500 in cash, prosecutors said.
Pimentel and Saenz are indicted for conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and extortion, and interference with commerce by robbery.
The defendants flouted the law and used enforcers with rival gangs to get victims to comply through the use of intimidation and violence in order to further their illicit network and generate profits,” Kristi Johnson, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said in the statement.
Santa Ana is located some 32 miles south of Los Angeles.
Meth, Heroin Charges
Also, in connection with a gambling site in Anaheim, there were narcotics charges tied to methamphetamine (meth) trafficking.
Marcus Jason Loomis, also known as “Negro,” 37, of Barstow, allegedly transported nearly two pounds of suspected meth from an illegal gambling business in Anaheim. That city is located north of Santa Ana.
Ricardo Alonzo Nunez, also known as “Rascal,” 44, of Anaheim, allegedly agreed to sell the meth. Nunez and Loomis are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute meth.
Also, Vanessa Maria Galloway, 37, of Barstow, was present when the meth was seized, feds said. She was charged with possession with the intent to distribute heroin.