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Bay Area Viet Gang Sweep Nets Drugs, Guns, 16 Arrests

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Luc Tien Tran (Calif. Attorney General's Office)

Luc Tien Tran (Calif. Attorney General’s Office)

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FREMONT – (CBS/BCN) – Sixteen people were arrested, about a ton of marijuana seized and a dozen guns confiscated in a series of raids carried out all over the Bay Area Tuesday morning, authorities said.

The sweep, “Operation Dragon,” targeted the “Insane Viet Thugs” gang, suspected of selling marijuana and Ecstasy in Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Solano counties.

KCBS’ Mike Colgan Reports:

The raids were the culmination of an eight-month investigation and were carried out at 22 locations in Fremont, Union City, Hayward, San Jose, Oakland, Vallejo and San Leandro. Five of the sites targeted were grow houses, authorities said.

Authorities seized $100,000 in cash and have frozen several bank accounts.

The 6 a.m. raids were spearheaded by the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement with help from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

A slew of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies participated.

Among those arrested was suspected gang leader Luc Tien Tran, 21, of San Leandro, who goes by the nickname “Piggy,” said Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Bob Cooke.

Cooke said the Insane Viet Thugs are a relatively new gang, a splinter group that broke off from the “Union City Viets” gang and drew attention to themselves through several drive-by shootings and burglaries.

“They really came onto our radar a couple of years ago,” Cooke said.

He said the gang was involved in a high-profile midday shooting near the Fremont Hall of Justice on Sept. 21. No one was injured in the shooting.

Four people were quickly arrested in that case, which Cooke said was made possible by a wiretap operation.

“We were able to monitor telephone calls immediately following the shooting…They were able to do a take-down and arrest four of the gang members for attempted murder,” Cooke said.

Fremont police Capt. Richard Lucero said his department has been familiar with the Insane Viet Thugs for a while.

“They’ve been present in southern Alameda County for quite some time, but recently they’ve been a particular threat,” he said. “Over the last two months or so they’ve been associated with five separate shootings.”

One of those was the Sept. 21 shooting, he said.

“They’re concerning in part because they’ve taken place in public places and residential neighborhoods,” Lucero said.

Cooke said the gang is local, does not have international ties, and consists of mostly Vietnamese-Americans with some black and Mexican members.

Investigators were able to identify about 30 members, he said.

Unlike some other gangs, Cooke said, the Insane Viet Thugs operate all over the region rather than in a specific neighborhood.

Tran, or “Piggy,” was the key shot-caller, Cooke said.

At his home, authorities confiscated a TEC-9 and a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, Cooke said.

“He had two guns in his room,” Cooke said.

His roommate, Duc Ha, who goes by “Penny,” had an assault rifle under his bed, according to Cooke.

Despite the potential for confrontation during the arrests, Cooke said this morning’s operation went smoothly, with “not so much as a broken fingernail.”

Cooke said it was difficult for investigators to close in on this particular gang.

“They were constantly aware of who was around them, who was following them, doing counter-surveillance tactics at all times,” he said. “These guys were practically impossible to follow.

The 16 people arrested are being booked into Santa Clara County Jail on a variety of charges, including cultivation and distribution of marijuana, possession of Ecstasy for sale and possession of assault weapons.

They will be charged in Santa Clara County Superior Court and will likely be arraigned on Friday, Deputy District Attorney Johnny Gogo said.

Those in custody include Linh Nhat Tran, or “Aryan,” 27; My Thuc Ha, or “Jay,” 26; Kennedy John Nguyen, or “Ken,” 25; Morgan Ashley Tonsend, 21; Quyen Ho Ho, or “TQ,” 22; To Xuan Nguyen, 18; and Thong Xuan Nguyen, or “Lil’ Thong,” 22.

The others are Phap Paul Ha, 21; Peter Huu Nguyen, 18; Billy Nguyen, 19; Johnny Le, 18; Phi Thanh Pham, or “Dub,” 20; Thien Thanh Pham, 23; and Matthew Pacheco, 20.

“I’m glad to see this case progress,” Lucero said. “This group is a significant hazard.”

Participating agencies included the federal Department of Justice, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI.

Local agencies included the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and police from Fremont, San Leandro, Vallejo, Hayward and Oakland.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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