Tran Organization, Casino Mob Aided by Ex-Mayor Nickels' Son, Finally History

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It didn't take the feds long to dispose of the small cogs in the casino-cheating Tran Organization--minions such as Jacob Nickels, son of former mayor Greg Nickels. Then a casino pit boss, Nickels the younger quickly pled guilty in 2007 to helping the organized-crime mob bribe card dealers at the Nooksack River Tribal Casino in Whatcom County--one of almost 30 U.S. casinos, including the Emerald Queen in Tacoma, taken for millions of dollars by the nationwide gang. Now, the FBI says, it has broken up the far-flung card ring altogether with the guilty plea last week in San Diego by co-founder Van Thu Tran, 45.

In her plea agreement, Tran admitted that she and two co-conspirators--including her husband--created the casino scheme and raked in up to $7 million since 2002 through card cheats. As part of her plea agreement, Tran agreed to the forfeiture of her interests in various assets, including jewelry.

The FBI calls it "the final chapter for a group that targeted as many as 29 casinos in the United States and Canada . . . using false shuffles, specially developed computer programs, concealed microphones and transmitters, and a web of co-conspirators." With the exception of two fugitives, 42 members have been convicted.

Federal prosecutors said Jacob Nichols, then 26, played a small role, referring some Tran members to Nooksack card dealers, and was paid $5,000. The players made off with $90,000 using a card-counting scheme.The mayor's son claimed he wasn't even around when the cheating occurred. He served three months.

It was, Nichols said afterward, "the biggest mistake of my life."

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