Santa Ana Illegal Gambling, Bribery Case Leads to Plea Deal in California

Posted on: October 7, 2022, 01:19h. 

Last updated on: October 7, 2022, 01:43h.

One of the suspects in a widespread Santa Ana, Calif. gambling den and bribery investigation has agreed to a plea deal. He could face up to 20 years in prison in exchange for his guilty plea.

Authorities raid an illegal gambling den in Santa Ana, Calif.
Authorities raid an illegal gambling den in Santa Ana, Calif., pictured above. The May raids have led to nine suspects in the case. One will soon plead guilty to three charges. (Image: KABC)

Niem Ngoc Ha, also known as “Dung Body,” 47, of Fountain Valley, Calif. will plead guilty to three federal charges: conspiracy, operating an illegal gambling business, and bribery, prosecutors revealed this week. The pleas could be entered in federal court within a few weeks.

Ha allegedly ran four illegal casinos in Santa Ana with three other defendants. The other defendants face a trial that is scheduled to start next May.

The casinos included video gambling machines and earned thousands of dollars daily in profits, prosecutors added.

Ha also told another suspect to assault a patron and an employee was ordered to be shot in the neck, prosecutors and state officials have revealed.

In May, California and federal authorities broke up the illegal gambling dens in Santa Ana as part of a far-reaching investigation.

Extortion, Drug Trafficking

A total of nine suspects were either apprehended or are still being sought on gambling charges or related crimes, such as extortion and drug trafficking, feds revealed in May. Numerous gambling devices were seized.

One of the other suspects is Mindy Bui, also known as “Thuy,” 36, of Westminster, Calif. Bui allegedly managed the illegal venues. Also, suspect Honganh Thi Pham, also known as “Hong,” 40, of Garden Grove, Calif. also managed the casinos, feds said.

As of May, authorities were still seeking two other suspects. One is Sammy Cardona, also known as “Peanut,” 36, of Santa Ana. He allegedly used “violence to protect defendant Ha’s illicit casinos,” according to a federal indictment.

Bribes to Police Officer

The suspects also allegedly paid $128,000 in bribes to a Santa Ana police officer, Steven Lopez. In return, Lopez agreed to prevent or stop law enforcement compliance checks at the illegal businesses, prosecutors said.

Lopez has pleaded guilty to accepting the bribes. He is no longer a police officer. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5, 2023.

Santa Ana is 34 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Slaphouses Explained

The casinos in the Santa Ana case are called “nets” when in a commercial district, or “slaphouses” when in a residential neighborhood, prosecutors explained.

The term “slaphouse” relates to players “slapping” the controls on some of the games, KABC, a local TV station, explained in a recent report.

Also, these kinds of gambling operations sometimes are hidden in abandoned businesses. California authorities have been trying to crack down on these illicit operations in recent years. Many investigations have looked at gang connections to the gambling dens, too.

Organized criminal activity and illegal gambling schemes will not be tolerated in California,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a May statement.

“Families throughout our state deserve to raise their children and live in safe neighborhoods, free from illicit and illegal activity,” Bonta added.

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