OC Casino Operator No-Shows Sentencing

Blackjack Dealer Hands In a Casino

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SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 48-year-old Fountain Valley man who pleaded guilty to bribing a Santa Ana police officer to protect his illegal gambling operation was a no-show at his sentencing in federal court in Santa Ana Monday.

Niem Ngoc Ha, who pleaded guilty Oct. 12, 2022, was scheduled for sentencing on Monday, but he did not make it to the hearing. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter said he had heard conflicting reports that the defendant, who had posted bail and was free while awaiting sentencing, was in custody somewhere, but it was unclear where.

Federal prosecutors were recommending a 70-month sentence for Ha.

"Defendant was the leader of an illegal gambling conspiracy involving illicit casinos that operated at commercial strip malls and private residences in Orange County, Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Lichtman said in court papers. "Compounding the seriousness of that crime, from approximately June to November 2020, defendant also paid approximately $128,000 in cash bribes to an officer in the Santa Ana Police Department in an attempt to prevent law enforcement from conducting searches and seizures and shutting down defendant's illegal businesses."

Prosecutors were also seeking a forfeiture order of $1.4 million to be finalized at sentencing. So far, Ha had made payments of $238,257.21 and $625,000, according to prosecutors.

The officer who took the bribes -- Steven Lopez -- pleaded guilty in December 2020 and was scheduled to be sentenced April 22.

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