“California Department of Justice special agents work to keep our neighborhoods and communities safe. Targeting crime such as illegal gambling operations and the illegal activity associated with them, helps to improve public safety and our quality of life.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SANTA ANA – On May 25, 2022, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the results of a multi-agency, years-long operation targeting illegal gambling dens, or “slaphouses” in Santa Ana and surrounding areas.
The operation resulted in the arrest of seven people charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in three indictments that allege an array of criminal conduct, including drug trafficking, the attempted extortion and subsequent robbery of a small business, bribery of a police officer, and operating illegal casinos.
Law enforcement agencies experienced increased calls for service in and around these locations due to an increase in criminal activity. As a result, the California Department of Justice Bureau of Gambling Control coordinated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to initiate an investigation. The charges allege a string of illegal casinos in Santa Ana and cites a shooting at one of the gambling dens in which an employee was struck in the neck.
“Organized criminal activity and illegal gambling schemes will not be tolerated in California,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Families throughout our state deserve to raise their children and live in safe neighborhoods, free from illicit and illegal activity. I am grateful for the collaboration and partnership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Santa Ana Police Department, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the United States Postal Inspection Service in conducting this investigation.”
Of the seven arrested, four were charged with conspiracy and operating an illegal gambling business that allegedly generated thousands of dollars in profits on a daily basis. Two defendants were charged in an alleged scheme to extort small businesses. The indictment alleges defendants went to small businesses, claimed to be “mafia,” and made demands for extortionate payments. The third indictment lists charges against three defendants who allegedly participated in a narcotics transaction involving a “slaphouse” in Anaheim. One defendant is individually charged with substantive methamphetamine distribution counts. Another is charged individually with possession with intent to distribute heroin.
One defendant is additionally charged with bribery for allegedly paying approximately $128,000 to former Santa Ana Police Officer Steven Lopez in an effort to protect his illicit casinos from law enforcement intervention. Lopez told the defendant in September 2020 that Santa Ana police officers were planning to shut down one of his casinos in the coming days, according to the indictment. Lopez, who pleaded guilty in December 2020 to accepting the bribes, is scheduled to be sentenced on October 17.
The primary investigatory agencies in this operation are the FBI, the Santa Ana Police Department, the California Department of Justice, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
For more information about the indictments, view here.