Aug. 24–SAN JOSE — A crackdown on Vietnamese organized crime in San Jose spurred police raids stretching from the Bay Area to the Deep South, yielding nearly two dozen arrests — including a San Jose police officer — and a cache of drugs, weapons, gambling machines, and one alligator.
They were among the results of a six-month investigation spearheaded by the SJPD gang investigations unit targeting a sophisticated gambling, extortion and drug trafficking ring run out of some of the myriad Vietnamese cafes that dot the city. San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia, joined by officials with the FBI and DEA, detailed the operation in a news conference Wednesday.
Police announced 23 people have been arrested and booked on charges ranging from extortion, public corruption, narcotic trafficking, assault, illegal gun possession and conspiracy. Two of them were arrested in Anaheim by Orange County sheriff’s deputies. Six more suspects remain at large and are being sought on conspiracy, accessory after the fact, narcotics and gambling charges.
“Operation: Gang of Thrones” was described as a “criminal-conspiracy investigation” that began in March and culminated Tuesday with officers and federal agents serving search and arrest warrants at locations in San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Fremont, Anaheim and an undisclosed site in Louisiana.
To carry out the wide-reaching mission — entailing at least 34 search warrants — SJPD tapped an array of personnel from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Santa Clara and Milpitas police, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and Louisiana State police. They targeted locations ranging from homes and businesses to the signature cafes popular and prevalent in the city’s East Side.
Perhaps the most startling revelation was the arrest of SJPD Officer Derrick Antonio, a nine-year department veteran, on allegations he leaked sensitive police intelligence to Vietnamese gang members implicated in the current case. Antonio, 34, whose last listed address was in Morgan Hill, is free on bail after being booked on five counts of unauthorized computer access and one count of being an accessory after the fact.
In June, in the middle of the investigation, Antonio was placed on paid administrative leave. He was arrested Tuesday after prosecutors decided there was enough evidence for criminal charges against him.
City councilman Manh Nguyen voiced gratitude that police continue to tackle a problem that has long plagued his community.
“We’ve been hearing about the Vietnamese gangs and illegal activities in coffee shops for a long time, and I’m glad they arrested these people,” he said. “I’m calling for Vietnamese residents to fully cooperate with the police to fight crime.”
Fellow councilman Tam Nguyen echoed the sentiment while lamenting that possible involvement of a police officer.
“It’s a great relief for the city and Vietnamese community overall,” he said. “We are sad to hear that an officer was involved. But we don’t have any details yet and can’t conclude anything until it’s been proven, but it was shocking.”
The other arrested suspects in the case were booked on suspicion of offenses including extortion, public corruption, narcotic trafficking, assault, illegal gun possession, and conspiracy. Six more people are being sought on suspicion of similar offenses.
Police also are investigating three people with gang affiliations on allegations they “conspired to bribe a uniformed member of the San Jose Police Department.” A source familiar with the investigation contends that the officer refused the bribe.
During the searches Tuesday, authorities seized the following:
* Five handguns
* 69 gambling machines
* Over $200,000 cash
* Body armor
* Jewelry, cell phones, computers and financial records
* 4,000 Ecstasy pills
* 300 Xanax pills
* Over 600 pounds of marijuana, including 420 pounds that were intercepted in Louisiana en route from San Jose
* Several vehicles, including a vehicle with a hidden compartment containing $100,000 cash
* Undisclosed amount of illegal steroids
* One alligator between four and five feet long
Like Manh Nguyen alluded, “Gang of Thrones” is just one of an array of periodic enforcement sweeps that federal agents and local police have conducted targeting what has appeared at times as a Hydra-like operation that methodically recovers from each blow.
In March 2015, the SJPD vice unit led “Operation Omni,” a multi-agency crackdown on 11 cafes hosting illegal electronic gambling machines — some hidden in a backroom and some out in the open — where more than 100 machines were confiscated.
The machines are the centerpiece of many of the extortion rackets alleged against Vietnamese organized crime, which have spurred territorial struggles over cash flow and control over whose machines are operated at which cafes. That’s not to mention the quality-of-life problems — addiction, drugs and possible prostitution — the illegal gambling attracts.
Those conflicts have been known to turn violent, with police making a public push last month for tips in four unsolved homicides in which the victims were ambushed and shot dead, with the unknown shooters suspected of being affiliated with Vietnamese gangs.
One unsolved killing had particular resonance: the cold-blooded Dec. 4, 2014 shooting of 41-year-old Thach Thiet Dien Duong outside the Golden King Teahouse, captured entirely on surveillance video, and which sowed the seeds of “Operation Omni.”
The last high-profile crackdown before that occurred in November 2013, when federal agents capped a two-year wiretap operation to break up a cafe-based gambling ring in San Jose. That yielded the arrest and eventual conviction of ringleader Lennie Luan Le, who federal prosecutors contended was the ringleader and enforcer for a scheme that pushed specific gambling machines on the cafes.
Le, who authorities said was a lieutenant for the Viet Nation street gang based out of East San Jose, was convicted by a federal jury and sentenced in June to 33 months in prison.
Meanwhile in the latest case, Antonio is out of custody. He is the second Santa Clara County law-enforcement officer in the past year to be accused of using protected criminal intelligence for illicit use: In October, Santa Clara County jail deputy Ryan Saunders was arrested on suspicion of eight misdemeanor counts of accessing confidential records from the Criminal Justice Information Control database to get information about “people he had personal relationships with,” according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Court documents from those charges show that investigators suspect Saunders associated with a known member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.
Check back later for updates to this story.
Staff writers Ramona Giwargis and Mark Gomez contributed to this report. Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.
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