A San Diego Man was sentenced to six years in federal prison this week for operating dozens of illegal gambling dens in San Diego that fostered drug trafficking, violent crimes, and gang activity within residential neighborhoods.
Long Ngoc Tran, 42, pleaded guilty to federal charges on July 28, 2022, for his role in running a gambling operation that prosecutors allege attracted violent criminal activity, including homicides, robberies, shootings, stabbings, assaults, and drug sales.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the illegal gambling dens were equipped with electronic gambling machines that were programmed with several games of chance such as Poker, blackjack, keno, jacks or better, and slot games. Most locations of these establishments were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with some shutting down in the early morning hours and starting up again in the afternoons.
Authorities say these illegal gambling dens lead to numerous arrests and seizures of hundreds of gambling machines, drugs, firearms, and cash. The San Diego Police Department has observed a steady increase in the prevalence of illegal gambling dens as far back as 2013, according to publicly available filings.
Investigators learned that Asian gang members and associates were often involved in operating these illegal gambling dens and that methamphetamine was being used and sold at these illegal gambling dens. The illegal gambling dens were often located inside houses, apartments, and outbuildings in residential neighborhoods predominantly in City Heights, in the East San Diego area.
More attention was drawn to these locations in 2015 due to the frequency of violent crimes occurring in and around them, including robberies, shootings, stabbings, and assaults, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Investigators learned that the patrons were often gang members, career criminals, habitual drug users, and fugitives.
The San Diego Violent Crime Task Force – Gang Group, initiated an investigation in the fall of 2019 dubbed “Marble Lion” into the illegal gambling dens operating in the City Heights. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, there were over four hundred crime cases and over three hundred arrests within 150 feet of the 36 illegal gambling locations investigated, causing this area to be the highest crime neighborhood in the East San Diego area.
In 2021, a grand jury returned indictments against 47 defendants, including Tran, who prosecutors say operated gambling dens on Oakcrest Drive, El Cajon Boulevard, 47th Street, Menlo Avenue, 48th Street, University Avenue, and 43rd Street.
According to prosecutors, Tran was previously arrested in 2015 following a law enforcement investigation into local gambling dens. He was arrested at his San Diego home, where police found drugs, cash, and six slot machines.
Tran told investigators that the machines were part of his gambling business, which he operated out of his home. He was sentenced to two years in state prison, but was back to running gambling businesses soon after his release, prosecutors say.
In a sentencing memorandum, the prosecution said Tran was “the most prolific gambling den operator uncovered by the investigation.''