EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The man in charge of several illegal gambling dens that became havens for drug trafficking, violent crime, and gang activity in East San Diego has been sentenced to prison.

Long Ngoc Tran, 42, was the leader of a criminal organization that operated nine of at least three dozen illegal gambling parlors, all within the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego.

Last July, Tran, aka “Long Tu,” pleaded guilty to conspiracy, operating an illegal gambling business, and maintaining drug-involved premises.

On Monday, United States District Court Judge Marilyn Huff sentenced Tran to 72 months in prison. Huff said she considered Tran’s 2015 state court conviction for operating or maintaining a drug house.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, as far back as 2013, the San Diego Police Department’s Street Gang Unit began to observe a significant increase in illegal gambling dens, and that Asian gang members and associates were often involved in operating these facilities, where methamphetamine was being used and sold.

By 2015, these gambling dens, which were located inside houses, apartments, and outbuildings in residential neighborhoods, began to be plagued by constant robberies, shootings, stabbings, and assaults, investigators said. Investigators also learned that the patrons were often gang members, career criminals, habitual drug users, and fugitives.

Investigators said the illegal gambling dens operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and offered electronic poker, blackjack, keno, jacks or better, and slot games.

In the fall of 2019, the San Diego Violent Crime Task Force – Gang Group launched “Marble Lion,” an investigation into more than 24 illegal gambling dens operating in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego.

In April 2021, a federal grand jury returned 17 related indictments charging Tran and 46 other defendants with illegal gambling, firearm offenses, and drug distribution.

“… the sentencing of Tran represents not only the end of the illegal gambling network he operated but the termination of all violent crimes perpetrated due to the existence of these illegal gambling dens,” said Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “Our focus is and always will be on protecting our communities from violence. We thank our partners that make up the Violent Crime Task Force – Gang Group for their coordination in ensuring that Tran returns to where he belongs—behind bars.”