Man Will Plead Guilty To Running Illegal Southern California Casinos

Written By Rashid Mohamed on October 19, 2022 - Last Updated on October 31, 2022

A man running illegal gambling dens in Fountain Valley agreed to plead guilty last week to a string of federal offenses related to illicit betting operations.

All 70-plus legal casinos in California are run by Native American tribes. Tribes must contract with the state to operate a casino in The Golden State.

Niem Ngoc Ha, 47, also said he paid $128,000 in bribes to Santa Ana Police officers to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement of his illegal Southern California casinos.

Ha, also known as “Dung Body,” accepted guilty charges of conspiracy, operating an illegal gambling business and bribery. Collectively, the three federal offenses carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

Ha should formally enter the guilty pleas once he appears in court in the next couple of weeks.

Ha ran four illegal casinos in Santa Ana area

According to the plea agreement, Ha confessed to opening and operating four illegal casinos, commonly referred to as “nets” (if located in a commercial district) or “slap houses” (for those in residential areas). All four dens were conducting business in the Santa Ana area.

Ha confirmed that three other individuals were part of the conspiracy to operate these illegal casinos. The venues featured video gambling machines that generated thousands of dollars in profits each day.

Investigators have learned that acts of violence had also taken place on a number of occasions at these establishments. Ha conceded that he arranged for a co-conspirator to rough up a casino patron who had instigated a fight. In a separate incident, a worker in another casino was shot in the neck, according to the plea agreement.

Ha gave bribes to police to turn a blind eye

Ha further confessed that in 2020, during a period of about six months, he gave approximately $128,000 to then-Santa Ana Police Officer Steven Lopez in the hopes that the city’s law enforcement would not meddle in his illicit casino operations.

In December 2020, Lopez pleaded guilty to accepting the bribes and is no longer employed by the Santa Ana Police Department. Lopez is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5, 2023.

Nine defendants named in indictments

All in all, there were nine defendants in three indictments focusing on illegal gambling, attempted extortion and drug trafficking that had been unsealed after the May raid on the slap house.

Ha, who was one of the nine defendants, was named in an indictment that charges three other alleged co-conspirators. The four accused men are to go on trial next May.

An indictment is a formal charge that a defendant has committed a crime; however, every defendant is innocent until or unless proven guilty in court.

Investigations into illegal gambling operations in Orange County are under the Orange County Asian Organized Crime Task Force.

A handful of primary law enforcement agencies are also part of the investigations. They include the FBI, the Santa Ana Police Department, the California Department of Justice, the Bureau of Gambling Control, the IRS Criminal Investigation and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Efforts increase to shutter illegal gambling dens

California authorities have recently stepped up their efforts to try and crack down on illicit gambling operations.

Oftentimes, these kinds of gambling operations are in derelict business areas that are rarely inspected by law enforcement. Investigative pursuits have also looked to see whether there are connections between gambling dens and gang activities.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said these types of raids will continue.

“Organized criminal activity and illegal gambling schemes will not be tolerated in California. Families throughout our state deserve to raise their children and live in a safe neighborhood, free from illicit and illegal activity.”

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Rashid Mohamed

Rashid Mohamed is an international journalist with a special interest in sports writing. He is a Poli-Sci graduate of Ohio University and holds an A.A.S in Journalism. He has worked in a number of countries and has extensive experience in the United Nations as well as other regional, national, and international organizations. Rashid lives and writes out of Denver, Colorado.

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