The Tran Organization
The Tran Organization was a group of individuals who decided to defraud casinos all over the country out of over $7 million dollars in a simple but effective cheating scheme. The family affair started in the early 2000's and ran successfully through the years that followed.
The Tran Organization was convinced that they were so good at their game that they would never get caught. That mindset would ultimately be their downfall, because with over-confidence comes mistakes. Their biggest mistake in this instance, the mistake that would take down a whole organization, was greed.
The leader of the organization became greedy and began shorting his co-conspirators, who then became angry and decided to work with the FBI instead. This led to all the people who were involved in the scheme to be targeted and watched, which ultimately led to the successful take down of an organization that likely could have continued for many yearsto come.
The leaders of the Tran Organization were Vietnamese nationals Van Thu Tran and Phuong Quoc Truong. This husband and wife came up with a plan to cheat casinos out of their money while they were working at a Native American casino in San Diego.
In August of 2002 a dealer that worked at the same casino was fired for using a false shuffle at her table. This was the start of the scheme, as it had given the Tran's a great deal of knowledge about the various ways to defraud a casino.
While the dealer was working for them, they had been researching what ways and what angles the false shuffle worked best. When this dealer was fired, it was thought that it was a solitary incident and wasn't much more than a dealer trick. However, this trick would end up costing the gambling industry dearly over the next several years.
This new scheme was extremely successful, because the organization was made up of mostly family and friends who were people the Tran's knew they could trust. It was the fact that they had to enlist the help of dealers from the casinos to make it all happen that would be the only weak link for the group. Van Thu Tran enlisted her parents, cousins, and other extended family to join their group of card cheats.
The whole thing started easy enough when Van and her husband decided to use the false shuffle to track cards while playing Pai Gow. This Asian card game was the first game they tried their skills out on. The cheat worked out well for the Tran's so they decided to bring in family members to increase their winning probability.
The entire scheme is based on the dealer preforming the false shuffle. A false shuffle is when the dealer protects a section of the cards and keeps them in the order that they were originally dealt in so that the person who is tracking the cards knows exactly which card is coming next.
Unless you know what you're looking for, it's easy to miss a false shuffle. Some dealers are skilled in this sleight of hand trick and it can be almost impossible to prove that's what is taking place. When their first dealer was fired they decided to branch out and take their skills to different casinos and different games.
At the time the group consisted of the two leaders, husband and wife Van Thu Tran and Phuong Quoc Truong, and 15 members of their extended family. The group headed up the coast to Sacramento. They knew they had to have someone on the inside for their plan to work so they went to work recruiting dealers working at the casinos and bribing them to get them to work with them.
Once they had enough dealers they started working the casinos in shifts on mini baccarat tables. This was a good game to start with since the players are allowed to write down which cards have been dealt. This allowed the player and the dealer to hone their skills.
The shifts were set up just like at any normal business with the day shift, night shift, and midnight shift. The members of the organization would rotate shifts so that no one would become too familiar with them. They were getting so good at working the casino over that they were raking in close to $20,000 dollars a round. In a months' time they'd won close to $158,000 from the Cache Creek casino and decided to spread out and try their luck at other casinos on the West Coast, Canada, and the Midwest.
The first thing they had to do was send in teams to recruit dealers from each of the casinos they were going to hit. Once they got the dealers secured they had it made, because their scam was so simple and hi-tech for the times they could play right in front of the cameras and security personnel without getting caught.
The casinos they hit didn't even know they had had a huge loss until two or three weeks after the organization had left. By 2005 the team had grown to over 40 people and was raking in the cash at an average of $50,000 dollars every 10 minutes.
They had also changed their tactics and game of choice. They had moved on to blackjack and would use hidden microphones, and a person who would watch the cards being dealt. The tracker would watch the cards and tell someone at a computer which cards had been dealt. The person at the computer would input the cards into a software program that would tell them in what order the cards would show up in when they came back into play after the dealer performed the false shuffle.
The tracker would then be told whether the slug cards were coming up and would use hand signals to let them know how and when to bet. Using this new technology fueled ruse was working out quite well for the Tran's and their winnings were skyrocketing.
In Chicago, October of 2005, the team had earned an astounding $868,000 at one casino. But as fantasic as their winning were, within a year, everything would come crashing down.
The Downfall of the Tran Organization
During the 3 years that the Tran Organization had been succsessfuly defrauding various casinos of thousands of dollars on a daily basis, the FBI was trying to figure what exactly was going on. Although it took the FBI quite a while to figure out the extent of the scheme once they finally caught up to the group.
Phuong Quoc Truong was the one who was in charge of making sure the dealers who had agreed to work with the organization were compensated well for the risk that they were taking. Just like most criminals, he was enjoying the life that came with having millions of dollars at his fingertips and only wanted to part with as little as possible.
This greed would end up costing everyone involved a great deal. Because of his greed he started shortchanging the dealers which did nothing for the organization but put them in harm's way. Because they were no longer getting compensated for breaking the rules the dealers were more than happy to flip and work with the FBI to save their own skin.
With the information that the dealers provided the FBI was able to get all of the top members of the organization under surveillance. They were able to obtain copies of all of their travel records, all the money exchanges at the casinos, and were able to watch them play and figure out their ruse.
In 2006 some agents with the Gaming Commission out of Mississippi went undercover to meet with Phuong Quoc Truong. He thought they were dealers that were willing to be of service; what he didn't know was that everything they discussed was being recorded. This video would serve as the first piece of evidence that would ultimately bring down the entire organization.
To complete their investigation they needed to have a recording of the whole thing going down so the FBI just had to wait to find out when and where. It didn't take long and they got a tip that the crew was going back to where it all began. The Sycuan Casino was notified and the FBI had everything set up and ready to go when the group walked in.
With the cameras rolling they watched as the members of the Trans Organization led by their top tracker Willy Tran cheat their way to $20,000 dollars in just 20 minutes before leaving the casino. This was all they needed to bring down everyone and by 2007 the whole group of 47 had been indicted for racketeering, theft, and money laundering.
In their five years in business this group had hit a total of 29 casinos and stolen around $7 million dollars, which all in all is a pretty good run.
Tran Organization Punishments
When the FBI came in and arrested the members of the Tran Organization they had enough evidence to get a three count indictment that would stick to most of the members. The three counts were conspiracy to participate in racketeering, conspiracy to steal money and other property from and Indian tribal casino, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
As of 2012, 42 members of the organization had plead guilty to all three counts. They were all cited for targeting all 29 casinos that were victim to the scheme. Three members of the organization were charged separately on different charges.
Two members, Ha Thuy Giang and Tammie Huynh, were charged with tax evasion that came from them not paying the taxes required for the amount of money they received during their time committing their crimes. Khani Hong Tran was another member who was charged separately for different casino cheating offenses. All three of them plead guilty.
Only one person tried to take his chance in court, but to no avail. Mike Waseleski, a former dealer took his chance with the justice system but was found guilty of defrauding the Resorts East Chicago Casino of $1.5 million dollars for his role in the scheme.
Van Thu Tran was one of the last to be sentenced. She plead guilty to the counts in the indictment and was sentenced to 36 months in prison, three years' probation, and ordered to pay close to $5.8 million dollars in restitution.
Her husband Phuong Quoc Truong also plead guilty and was sentenced to 70 months in prison, 3 years' probation, and to pay close to $5.8 million in restitution to the casinos. He was also required to forfeit $2.8 million dollars, two houses, and two properties in Vietnam, a Porsche Carrera, and a presidential Rolex.
Although the sentences handed down in this case seem to be light it's still a lesson that many don't want to learn the same way these people did. You're better off taking your chances at the table than to try and beat the odds by cheating. Like the old saying goes, and something the Tran organization forgot, "The house always wins".
Updated: January 2017