Feds Raid 24 San Diego Slaphouses, Links to Drugs and V-Boys Street Gang

Posted on: April 15, 2021, 06:01h. 

Last updated on: April 15, 2021, 10:15h.

The FBI disrupted two dozen illegal gambling dens in San Diego Wednesday morning in sweeping raids across the city. The operation resulted in 35 arrests and charges against 47 people, according to federal indictments unsealed Wednesday.

slaphouse san diego
Images taken by the FBI from security cameras at various venues targeted in Wednesday’s raids. (Image: FBI San Diego)

According to an FBI search-warrant affidavit, at least nine of the 24 businesses raided belonged to one man, Long Ngoc Tran, 41, also known as “Long Tu.”

Long is a reputed member of the V-Boys Vietnamese street gang, who has previous convictions for illegal gambling and drugs, according to the affidavit.

In all, 44 firearms, more than 12 pounds of methamphetamine, $263,000 in cash, and 640 gambling machines were seized during the culmination of a two-year investigation.

Slaphouse Always Wins

California has seen a marked increase in underground gambling dens, sometimes known as “slaphouses,” in recent years. They have been linked to drugs and violent crime.

“Numerous crimes have been linked to the illegal gambling operations,” said SDPD Chief David Nisleit. “The investigative work led by the Violent Crimes Task Force and the arrests made have created a safer environment for all of our communities.”

Slaphouses are named for the button-bashing sound made by patrons playing on illegal machines. They often spring up behind seemingly vacant storefronts in areas where retail has taken a downturn.

Many of the venues raided Wednesday were “located inside small businesses or inside houses, apartments, and outbuildings in residential neighborhoods,” predominantly in City Heights in the East San Diego area.

Typically, they operate 24/7 and have remained open throughout the pandemic.

Meth Magnets

The FBI said that those arrested Wednesday ranged from owners of the businesses to those who acted as security doormen and bankers, as well as the drug dealers who operated within the dens.

According to the warrant, the use and sale of methamphetamine is intrinsically linked to slaphouses and acts as a draw to bring customers to the venues.

It is common for employees to hand out small amounts of methamphetamine and ‘comp’ customers to keep them playing and coming back for more,” reads the warrant. “It’s rare to have a patron who does not use or sell methamphetamine inside these locations.”

“We have taken down the illegal gambling dens, and we have lifted a weight off our neighborhoods,” said Acting US Attorney Randy Grossman. “As a result of the collaboration of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, law-abiding citizens who live in these neighborhoods will be safer without these magnets for crime in their midst.”