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Computerized Casino Card Cheats Go Bust In FBI Slug-fest
Written: October 1, 2012

Looking for love

Way back in August 2002, Van Thu Tran, now 47, helped launch a criminal enterprise, which federal prosecutors have dubbed the “Tran Organization.” As far as these schemes go, this one was fairly successful, ripping off about $7 million from U.S. and Canadian casinos; however, “successful” is a relative term because virtually all the conspirators were caught by the feds and seem on their way to being comped into a federal penitentiary where there will likely be no courtesy bar — other than the ones on the doors to their jail cells.

Dirty Deal

Van Thu Tran and her husband were dealers at an Indian tribal casino in San Diego in 2002 when they devised a plan to use a “false shuffle” to track cards during the Asian card game of Pai Gow.  Apparently, this card cheat worked out well because Tran and her husband enlisted her parents, extended family, and others; and they all branched out into the games of blackjack and baccarat.

Slug-ing It Out

The Tran Organization’s casino fraud was relatively simple: They bribed casino card dealers and supervisors to perform false shuffles during card games.

Yeah, you sort of need to read that a few times and let it soak in.  This whole scam targeted some pretty sophisticated casinos and was predicated upon something so uncomplicated as bribing dealers and supervisors.  You’d think that there was a whole array of high-tech snoopers and sniffers at work to spot such stuff.  Then again, maybe that’s what the casinos what potential cheaters to think.  Of course, in the old days, you probably thought more about getting dragged into a dark alley by some no-neck guys who worked for the casino — and who proceeded to work you over.

Once the dealers and supervisors had a was of bills in their pockets, the Tran Organization sent their spotters over to the tables to be targeted, where these folks used concealed devices to relay to other conspirators the order of the played cards, and that information was entered into a computer. Once the targeted cards’ order was in computer memory, a member of the Tran Organization would signal a bribed dealer to give the cards the old false shuffle — this sleight of hand kept the computer-memorized cards in the order in which they had previously been dealt, known among cheats as a “slug.”

As the slug came into play, a sophisticated software program spotted the memorized patterns and relayed the order of the unshuffled cards to the spotter, who then signaled one of the conspiracy’s bettors. At this point, the scam took on the trappings of the pitcher-catcher battery in baseball: One finger on a cigarette, might mean bet; two fingers might mean stand pat.  By betting on the known order of cards in the slug, the conspiracy was able to win thousands of dollars during blackjack and mini-baccarat games.

By 2004, some casinos believed that they were being victimized by card cheats but couldn’t figure out how. All of which prompted calls from the casinos to the FBI and other federal investigative agencies.

Unlucky ’07

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.

To date, a total of three Indictments have been issued from 2007 to 2009 and 42 defendants have pled 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.

The defendants cited above have admitted to targeting with the aid of co-conspirators about 29 casinos in the United States and Canada:

  1. Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi;
  2. Casino Rama, in Orillia, Ontario, Canada;
  3. Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut;
  4. Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Mississippi;
  5. Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana;
  6. Horseshoe Casino and Hotel in Tunica, Mississippi;
  7. Isle of Capri Casino in Westlake, Louisiana;
  8. Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Indiana;
  9. Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut;
  10. Palace Station Casino in Las Vegas;
  11. Resorts East Chicago Hotel and Casino in East Chicago, Indiana;
  12. Sycuan Casino in El Cajon, California;
  13. Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino in Brooks, California;
  14. Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington;
  15. Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi;
  16. Argosy Casino in Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
  17. Trump 29 Casino in Coachella, California;
  18. Isle of Capri Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana;
  19. Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, California;
  20. Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, California;
  21. Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California;
  22. L’Auberge du Lac Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana;
  23. Nooksack River Casino in Deming, Washington;
  24. Barona Valley Ranch Casino and Resort in Lakeside, California;
  25. Caesars Indiana Hotel and Casino in Elizabeth, Indiana;
  26. Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas;
  27. Harrah’s Casino in Lake Charles;
  28. Golden Moon Casino in Choctaw, Mississippi; and
  29. Viejas Casino in Alpine, California.

Calling In The Markers

Ha Thuy Giang and Tammie Huynh pleaded guilty to tax offenses stemming from the investigation, and Khai Hong Tran pleaded guilty to casino-cheating offenses in Canada.

On December 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 scheme to steal approximately $1.5 million from Resorts East Chicago Casino.

On January 14, 2011, Van Thu Tran pled guilty and on September 28, 2012, she was sentenced to 36 months in prison, three years of supervised release, ordered to pay to several victimized casinos $5,753,416 in restitution, and ordered to forfeit her interests in various assets, including jewelry and bank accounts.

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