Through intimidation and brazen attacks that occurred during a spree of home invasions, a dozen men and women preyed on the Valley’s Asian-American community knowing that the families would be reluctant to contact police.
Authorities say the criminal syndicate that mainly targeted Vietnamese-Americans was extremely violent. They tied up men, women and children, in some cases assaulting the females, then stole their cash and jewelry.
On Monday, police announced the culmination of an investigation that resulted in the arrests last week of 10 of 12 suspects in Valley communities that include Chandler, Gilbert and Scottsdale. Two suspects were already behind bars on other charges.
Those arrested are believed to be responsible for at least 21 break-ins that occurred across the Valley, Phoenix police Lt. Steve Soha said.
The victims are hardworking families who often were sitting in their living rooms watching TV when the attacks occurred, said Phoenix detective Bill Long, who went undercover to investigate the case.
Many of the suspects, who are also Vietnamese-Americans, were driven to commit the robberies to feed their need for money to buy and sell drugs that included ecstasy and marijuana, Long said.
The list of 39 charges against the men and women include kidnapping, conspiracy to commit murder, drug trafficking and illegal control of an enterprise, Phoenix police Chief Jack Harris said. Most of the charges are tied to incidents that happened this year, however, police have been investigating similar cases for six years.
In addition to the arrests, police seized 24 guns, thousands of rounds of assault rifle ammunition, four stolen vehicles, cocaine, ecstasy, steroids and marijuana.
Police did not release details about the suspects and said they are members of at least two groups. Authorities said the ongoing investigation is expected to produce more arrests.
The investigation began in 2001 after police learned that people in the Vietnamese community were not reporting crimes.
Long said he was curious and wanted to know why people feared reaching out to police.
“I feel like there was a need or there was a voice in our community that wasn’t being heard, and I wanted to give them an opportunity,” he said.
He traveled to Vietnam to study the culture and the language, then returned and eventually went undercover to investigate the crimes.
What he found were victims who faced a language and culture barrier and didn’t know they had rights.
He stayed behind the scenes and received tips about crimes that were never reported to police. Then in 2005, the investigation picked up as he began to gather information about the identity of the suspects arrested last week.
Soha said the Vietnamese-American community didn’t report many of these crimes because members distrusted law enforcement based on experience with officers in their native country. And some people feel shamed by the attacks, he said.
Sinh Pham, president of the Vietnamese Community in Arizona, said many of the estimated 20,000 Vietnamese-Americans who live here are first-generation immigrants. Pham said one of the toughest obstacles they face is the language barrier and this keeps them from reaching out to police.
Mai Le, who runs a Vietnamese radio station in the Valley, added that people are afraid of retaliation and don’t report the crimes.
Le said she had heard of crimes like these from friends. The attackers would ring the doorbell then barge in with guns. They tied up residents and took their cash and gold.
She said she heard that the crimes started in Phoenix but in the last two years have spread to the East Valley.
Suspects Phong Bui, 30: Arrested in Gilbert and jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise and sale of dangerous drugs.
Hung Nguyen, 36: Jailed earlier this year on suspicion of four counts of armed robbery and six counts of kidnapping.
Toan Luong, 30: Already in custody on other charges. However, he was also jailed on one count of armed robbery and two counts of kidnapping.
Dao Van Pham, 54: Jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise, conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to sell marijuana.
Angelina Nguyen, 27: Jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise and conspiracy to commit murder.
Allen Yee, 25: Jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise, misconduct involving weapons, conspiracy to sell dangerous drugs and conspiracy to sell marijuana.
Tien Nguyen, 26: Jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise and conspiracy to sell narcotic drugs.
An Nguyen, 25: Jailed on suspicion of participating in an illegal enterprise and
possession of marijuana for sale.
Xaisack Bryan Chanthavichith, 28: Arrested in Scottsdale and jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise, conspiracy to sell dangerous drugs and money laundering.
Raksmey Seng, 25: Jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise, conspiracy to sell dangerous drugs and conspiracy to sell marijuana.
Johnny To, 22: Arrested in Chandler and jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise, conspiracy to sell dangerous drugs and money laundering.
Vien Huy Nguyen, 24: Jailed on suspicion of illegal control of an enterprise, conspiracy to sell dangerous drugs and money laundering.