22 charged in Chinatown illegal gambling network

- The Harris County District Attorney announced a major crackdown on an illegal gambling network in the Chinatown area of Houston.  Twenty-two people were charged this week in connection with the gambling network, according to District Attorney Kim Ogg.

Owners and staff at four businesses on Bellaire Boulevard are charged with money laundering, engaging in organized crime, and gambling promotion. Two more illegal game rooms were also shut down at a business on Wilcrest and a home on Stroud.

The district attorney made the announcement about the arrests Wednesday at the end of a year-long investigation into the crimes in Chinatown.

“In these game rooms they look really innocent,” said Ogg. “You can walk in; see the machines, but to actually access them, generally they have to know you. It’s a closed industry."

Law enforcement seized more than $2.3 million in illegal proceeds from the gambling network.

Two Houston police officers were identified as helping the owner of Memory Cafe on Bellaire with his illegal operation. The district attorney says officers Larry Nguyen and Huy Ly helped Tim Vo finance luxury purchases, including a $200,000 Lamborghini, through the Houston Police Federal Credit Union.

Both officers are charged with money laundering. They’ve resigned from the force.

“To those out there critics that would say that police departments do not hold themselves accountable—they don’t hold their officers accountable—you don’t need any more proof than this,” said Chief Art Acevedo with the Houston Police Deptment. “We didn’t just look the other way. We aggressively pursued these guys.”

The six illegal operations include Super Lucky Game on Bellaire Blvd. The doors are locked, and the store front sign has been removed. Neighboring business staffers say they arrived to work one morning two months ago, and found the parking lot full of police officers and FBI agents who raided Super Lucky Game.

Another illegal operation was T7 Game Room Double Jackpot on Bellaire Blvd. It’s been replaced with Aqua S, an ice cream shop.

The new owner says she recalls reading about the raid last summer in the Chinese newspaper.

“I didn’t even know it was illegal, because it’s all over town,” said Martina Yang, owner of Aqua S. “Game rooms are all over town, so now I know.”

“The game room itself is not illegal,” said Ogg. “That’s what’s confusing to the public. We have to prove that the machines are actually used illegally.”

Ogg says investigations into illegal gambling are continuing, and she expects to shut down more illegal game rooms soon.

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