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Investigators Say Illegal Gaming May Be Rampant : Crime: The Asian community generally is reluctant to cooperate, officers note, adding that a private lottery raided Wednesday could be only the tip of the iceberg.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Local and state investigators said Friday that a private lottery raided this week, which allegedly netted up to $80,000 a week, may be only a fraction of the illegal gaming operations in Orange County’s Southeast Asian community.

But police are hampered in their investigations of the games by the community’s reluctance to cooperate with police, they say. Too often, police run into the “language barrier” and victims who refuse to talk, Garden Grove Police Lt. Kevin Raney said.

“From my perspective, there have always been innuendoes that there is large-scale gambling going on in the Asian community. But the information we get is very limited,” Raney said.

On Wednesday, Garden Grove police arrested the owner, two employees and a customer at An Dong Market, 10552 Westminster Ave., and seized $23,000 in alleged gambling profits.

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The seizure and arrests, which resulted from a tip to police, represented the largest bust involving Asians in Orange County since a gambling ring grossing $400,000 a month in illegal video slot machines was broken in March, 1990.

Police in neighboring cities said that during investigations of home break-ins and store robberies, they have begun noticing “odd things” that didn’t seem in line with running legitimate businesses. But because it’s difficult to obtain cooperation, investigations have died, according to Westminster Police Sgt. Michael Mittelstaedt.

“It is hard to investigate those types of things. We run into strange accounting procedures, say at a dress store that just doesn’t seem to be your normal dress-sales (ledger) books. But we just don’t know how bad the problem is,” Mittelstaedt added.

Despite suspicions, no major arrests have been made because cracking the Asian code of silence is difficult for outsiders.

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For years, rumors have filtered inside the county’s Little Saigon community about floating pai gow games in private residences, where local Asian gangs serve as lookouts and bodyguards. Pai gow, a Chinese, dominoes-style game, is legal only inside card parlors.

“We know the rumors,” Raney acknowledged, “but it still remains a tight-lipped community.”

Police officials said they believed that assimilation into American culture may bring cooperation in the Asian community.

“As these doors start to open, we’re going to receive more and more information, not only on vice-related crimes but on all sorts of criminal conduct,” Raney predicted.

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Those arrested on Wednesday included a woman whom police described as the market’s owner, Huong Ngo 38, of Garden Grove. She was booked on suspicion of running and operating an illegal lottery and allowing a business to be used for illegal gambling. Employees Fong Saechua, 33, of Garden Grove and Kim Nguyen, 42, of Anaheim were booked on suspicion of aiding and operating an illegal lottery.

Arrested for allegedly playing an illegal lottery was a customer, Vann Vong, 42, of Orange. A search warrant was served just as Vong was buying one of the handwritten tickets, police said.

Despite the size of the operation, which allegedly held lotteries on Wednesdays and Saturdays using hand-written markers, the charges are only misdemeanors, Raney said.

Police have contacted investigators from the Internal Revenue Service and the state Franchise Tax Board to ask for an inquiry into the supermarket’s business operations.

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Spokesmen for both agencies said they would not comment on active investigations.


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