Real-Life 'Ocean's 11': How Agents Foiled a $7 Million Casino Scheme


"It's safe to say that if there's a casino in that state, they hit it," Casey said.

The Trans had two things going for them. They were able to conduct the scam in full view of the thousands of casino security cameras and, by the time a casino realized one of their tables had a huge loss, the crew would be gone.

"A lot of the casinos didn't realize what was happening to them in real time. They figured it out, maybe two, three weeks after they had left," said Casey.

By the time the crew arrived at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut in 2005, its ranks had swelled to more than 40 people and it was averaging $50,000 every 10 minutes at the table.

It also had changed tactics. The group's members started cheating at blackjack, where the table limits are typically higher and the winnings bigger. In blackjack, however, a player isn't able to write down any of the cards, so the Trans went high-tech.

They used hidden microphones and a tracker -- a person watching the order the cards were being dealt -- would read the cards into the microphones while pretending to smoke a cigarette. On the other end of the line, someone would sit outside the casino with a specially designed computer program talking to the tracker, who was wearing a hidden ear piece. The computer program would read out when, and in what order, the cards would come back out in after the dealer had performed the false shuffle to the tracker.

The tracker would signal to the player at the table when the slug of cards was in play and use hand singles to let him know how to bet.

"Take a puff with one finger on, it says to make a bet. Take a puff with two fingers on the cigarette, that means to double down," Casey said.

Once again, the Trans looked to be unstoppable.

"They started pulling a lot more money off the tables in a shorter amount of time," Casey said.

While the FBI continued to play catch-up, the Tran scores started going through the roof, peaking at an incredible $868,000 at Resorts East in Chicago in October 2005.

But for all the slickness and expertise, the Tran gang, specifically its leader, Phuong Truong, would fall prey to a classic bad guy blunder: greed. Truong began shortchanging his dealers. Embittered, they happily became informants for the FBI. Eventually Truong and his top lieutenants were identified and put under surveillance.

"We got their travel records, their playing habits, all the currency transaction reports," Casey said.

On June 8, 2006, agents for the Mississippi Gaming Commission went undercover to meet with Truong. He thought they were dealers willing to work with him. In the undercover video of the meeting, Truong laid out his whole scheme.

"That was one of the best undercover videos I've ever seen," said Casey.

"I only need two guys to go in there with me and light up a cigarette and game over. That's it," Truong said in the video. "I can smoke my cigarette like this, then you already know where to bet, what to bet."

The final piece of evidence that federal investigators needed was capturing the entire scam on video. That happened weeks after Truong was filmed undercover when a tip came in that a portion of gang was headed back to the place where it all started, the Sycuan Casino. This time, the FBI and casino were ready.

With multiple cameras rolling, they watched as the group, led by one of the Tran Organization's most prolific trackers, Willy Tran, stole more than $20,000 in 20 minutes before he walked out.

With this treasure trove of video in hand, authorities finally moved in and Phuong Truong's house of cards collapsed.

By 2007, Truong and 46 of his confederates were indicted for racketeering, theft and money laundering. He pled guilty, was sentenced to 70 months in prison and had to forfeit and pay back millions to casinos and the government.

"They hit close to 19 casinos. They took in, what we could prove, around $7 million," Casey said.

Casey said Pai Gao John forgot the first rule of gambling: In the end, the house always wins.

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