Orange County

Crackdown on gambling dens

LAW ENFORECMENT agencies are cracking down on illegal gambling dens in Orange County (Shutterstock).

SANTA ANA (AP) – Seven people were arrested on suspicion of running illegal gambling dens at Orange County homes after a years-long investigation uncovered a series of alleged crimes that included drug trafficking, bribery and a shooting, authorities said Wednesday.

Among those indicted were a Garden Grove resident and a Westminster resident.

The so-called “slaphouses” were operated inside residences in suburban Santa Ana and surrounding areas of Orange County, California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office said in a statement.

Four of the seven defendants were charged with conspiracy and operating an illegal gambling business that generated thousands of dollars in profits on a daily basis, the statement said.

Three separate indictments allege defendants tried to extort small businesses and distributed or possessed methamphetamine and heroin, prosecutors said.

A shooting at one of the illegal gambling dens injured an employee in the neck, officials said.

“The number of illegal gambling dens has exploded during the pandemic, dramatically impacting the quality of life in many Orange County neighborhoods,” U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison said in a statement. “These illicit businesses are a breeding ground for drug trafficking, violence and even police corruption.“

Members of the Orange County Asian Organized Crime Task Force  arrested five defendants – which follows two arrests Tuesday afternoon. All seven defendants are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana. Authorities continue to search for two defendants.

The indictment alleging the operation of illegal casinos charges four defendants:

  • Niem Ngoc Ha, aka “Dung Body,” 46, of Fountain Valley, who allegedly opened and operated four illegal casinos commonly called “nets” (if they are in a commercial district) or “slaphouses” (for those in residential areas), all of which were located in Santa Ana;
  • Mindy Bui, aka “Thuy,” 36, of Westminster, who allegedly managed Ha’s illegal casinos;
  • Honganh Thi Pham, aka “Hong,” 40, of Garden Grove, who also allegedly managed the illegal casinos; and
  • Sammy Cardona, aka “Peanut,” 36, of Santa Ana, one of two defendants still being sought by authorities, who “would use violence to protect defendant Ha’s illicit casinos,” according to the indictment. Cardona is currently a fugitive.

These four defendants are charged with conspiracy and operating an illegal gambling business that allegedly generated thousands of dollars in profits on a daily basis.

Ha is additionally charged with bribery for allegedly paying approximately $128,000 to the now-convicted, former Santa Ana Police Officer Steven Lopez in an effort to protect his illicit casinos from law enforcement intervention. Lopez told Ha in September 2020 that Santa Ana police officers were planning to shut down one of his casinos in the coming days, according to the indictment. Lopez, who pleaded guilty in December 2020 to accepting the bribes, is scheduled to be sentenced on October 17.

Authorities are searching for two additional suspects.

The investigation included agents from the FBI and the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Gambling Control.

Moving gambling into residential neighborhoods makes it tougher for police to detect since they need a warrant to get in. Neighbors are often afraid to report the homes to police even when they attract drug use and other crime.

Inside the homes, players often try their hand at video poker or blackjack. A gambling video game earned the dens the name “slaphouses” because of the sound of players pounding their hands on the game controls.


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