An investigation targeting illegal gambling, narcotics, and gun trafficking under the code name ‘Operation Community First’ launched by the Orange County Asian Organized Crime Task Force in February 2021 resulted in arrests and three indictments linked with illegal casinos.
“These illicit businesses are a breeding ground for drug trafficking, violence and even police corruption.”
US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison
Five defendants out of nine charged in the three indictments that allege drug trafficking, attempted extortion, robbery of a small business, and bribery to a police officer – all related to operating illegal casinos – were arrested on Wednesday morning to bring the total arrests to seven after the two arrested on Tuesday while authorities keep searching for the remaining two.
“Today’s operation is the result of a joint effort among partners at the federal, state and local level in Santa Ana to dismantle an illegal gambling network that generated a variety of criminal activity causing great harm to the communities in which they operated.”
Kristi Johnson, Assistant Director in Charge of Los Angeles Field Office, FBI
Nets and Slaphouses
The first indictment charges four defendants, Niem Ngoc Ha, aka ‘Dung Body’, Mindy Bui, aka ‘Thuy’, Honganh Thi Pham, aka ‘Hong’ and Sammy Cardona, aka ‘Peanut’ with conspiracy and operating an illegal gambling business.
Ha, 46, of Fountain Valley, allegedly opened and operated four illegal casinos – those located in commercial areas referred to as ‘nets’ and those in residential areas called ‘slaphouses’ – was additionally charged with bribery for allegedly paying approximately $128,000 to former Santa Ana police officer Steven Lopez for protection services. Lopez pleaded guilty to accepting the bribes in December 2020 and will hear his sentence on October 17.
Bui, 36, of Westminster, and Pham, 40, of Garden Grove, allegedly managed the illegal casinos, while Cardona, 36, of Santa Ana, who is still at large and sought by the police, was the one protecting the operation by all means necessary, including violence.
Extortion and Robbery
The second indictment is related to extortion of small businesses operating as nets. It charges Vincent Pimentel of Santa Ana and Steven Saenz of Whittier for allegedly robbing those businesses which refused to pay the protection tax.
The indictment, which charges Pimentel and Saenz with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and extortion and interference with commerce by robbery, cites an occasion in April 2019 in which Saenz went to a Santa Ana video rental shop operating as a net and was refused payment by the owner only to return later with others to rob the business, stealing digital gambling machines worth approximately $17,000, desktop computers and $3,500 in cash. Pimentel is the second fugitive sought by the police.
Methamphetamine and Heroin
The third indictment charges Ricardo Alonso Nunez, aka ‘Rascal’ for selling amphetamine, Marcus Jason Loomis, aka ‘Negro’ for delivering the drugs from an illegal casino in Anaheim to Nunez’s buyer, and Vanessa Maria Galloway with possession with the intent to distribute heroin.
Rascal and Negro are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine while Galloway is charged individually.