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Leader of casino cheaters pleads guilty

SAN DIEGO – A leader of a racketeering enterprise that allegedly cheated seven Indian casinos in California and Canada out of $1 million pleaded guilty Feb. 13 for his role, the FBI said.

Tai Khiem Tran, 47, made the plea in San Diego Federal Court to charges of conspiring to participate in the enterprise known as the Tran Organization, based here and elsewhere, U.S. attorneys said in a press release.

Prosecutors described a sophisticated cheating system that included card tracking technology and software that predicted the order in which cards would appear. Tran and 13 others allegedly bribed casino card dealers and supervisors to perform “false shuffles” during black jack and mini-baccarat games, the press release said.

The organization’s members signaled to the card dealer to create the so-called “slugs” or groups of un-shuffled cards. Members would then bet on the known order of cards as the slug materialized on the table with the aid of the technology. Members repeatedly won thousands of dollars including one win of up to $868,000; though the release did not specify in which casino.

Members of the organizations targeted some of the biggest casinos in southern California Indian country spanning San Diego and Riverside counties including the Agua Caliente, Barona, Pechanga and Sycuan casinos. It also targeted a casino owned by the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians 90 miles northeast of San Francisco and the Casino Rama in Ontario.

According to the FBI, Tran admitted that he participated in the cheats with the co-defendants between August 2002 and June 2005.

Tran’s 2007 indictment charged him and the other 13 with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, commit several offenses against the U.S., steal money from Indian casinos and commit money laundering. Tran faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and agreed to pay a judgment of $823,612. Tran’s house in the San Diego area, a 2006 Mercedes Benz and various pieces of jewelry could satisfy that judgment. Tran’s sentencing is scheduled for July 13 in San Diego; he was also charged in Canada.

A second indictment has charged 11 other defendants of conspiring to commit offenses on behalf of the Tran Organization.

To date, 26 defendants, including Tran, have pleaded guilty to charges relating to casino cheating scams in approximately 24 Indian casinos during the course of their activity.

A multi-agency effort is still working on the case, including the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division.