Man agrees to plead guilty for allegedly operating illegal casinos

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SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 47-year-old Fountain Valley man has agreed to plead guilty to federal offenses for operating illegal gambling dens and paying over $100,000 in cash bribes to a Santa Ana Police Department officer to avoid law enforcement scrutiny of his underground casinos, according to a plea agreement filed Thursday in federal court.

Niem Ngoc Ha, also known as "Dung Body" agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy, operating an illegal gambling business and bribery, according to Thom Mrozek, the director of media relations for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. In the plea agreement filed in Santa Ana federal court, Ha admitted that he opened and operated four illegal casinos in the Santa Ana area.

Ha admitted to conspiring with three others to operate the casinos, which featured video gambling machines, generated thousands of dollars in profits each day and was the site of various acts of violence, Mrozek said.

In one case, Ha directed a co-conspirator to physically assault a casino patron who had started a fight, and in a separate incident, a worker at another casino was shot in the neck, according to the plea agreement.

Ha also admitted paying approximately $128,000 to then-Santa Ana Police Department Officer Steven Lopez over the course of six months in 2020. The bribes were paid in an effort to protect Ha's casinos from law enforcement intervention, Mrozek said.

The three offenses Ha is facing cumulatively carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to Mrozek. Ha is expected to formally enter the guilty pleas in court in the coming weeks.

The three other alleged co-conspirators are scheduled to go on trial in May.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images