S.D. family among 19 indicted in scheme to cheat casinos

By Angelica Martinez
1:43 p.m. May 24, 2007
SAN DIEGO – Members of a San Diego family have been charged with racketeering in what officials said Thursday was an elaborate scheme to cheat casinos across the country out of millions of dollars.

Nineteen individuals, including family members and their associates, have been named in a three-count federal indictment handed down Tuesday and unsealed Thursday morning, officials said.

Federal officials accuse the group of using specially created software that would predict the order in which cards would reappear during baccarat and blackjack games – a practice known as a “false shuffle” – and conveying the predictions to the gambling table using hidden radio transmitters.
“The FBI characterizes this scheme, which originated in California, as probably the largest cheating scheme ever brought by the federal government, said Kathy Leodler, acting special agent in charge of the FBI in San Diego. “We are not aware of any other cases of this magnitude.”

The indictment charges the defendants 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.

One count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department began the investigation in March 2002. It grew to include several local, state and federal agencies as well as law enforcement officials in Canada. Authorities would not disclose what prompted the investigation.

The indictment states that since March 2002 up until the indictment was handed down, the defendants cheated 18 casinos, including 10 that are owned and operated by Indian tribes. Two of those casinos were the Barona Valley Ranch Casino and Resort in Lakeside and the Sycuan Resort and Casino in El Cajon. The group targeted casinos seven U.S. states and in Ontario, Canada, said U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt.

The indictment alleges that the plotters repeatedly won thousands of dollars during card games – including as much as $868,000 on one occasion.

Officials said the scheme also involved the bribing of dealers and four supervisors who are not named in the indictment. Hewitt would not say if the casino employees who are suspected of being bribed will face prosecution.

The actual amount of the casinos' losses is still being determined but authorities said they are trying to seize $3.3 million in property, including homes and luxury vehicles.

Of the 19 indicted, 12 are in custody. Two defendants are in the process of surrendering to authorities in San Diego, Hewitt said. Two others named in the indictment are Canadian and have been arrested by authorities there. Three defendants are fugitives.

The group was led by Phuong Quoc Truong, also known as “Pai Gow” John and John Truong, officials said.

If convicted of the racketeering conspiracy charge, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The conspiracy charge relating to money laundering carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The third conspiracy count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.