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17 Charged in Largest U.S. Chip Robbery

June 03, 1997|DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seventeen people from across California have been charged with the takeover robberies of two Southland computer firms, including the largest heist of computer chips in U.S. history, authorities said Monday.

Those charged are linked to "Asian organized crime syndicates" that have been pillaging California's high-technology computer firms, said Asst. U.S. Atty. Christopher D. Johnson.

A federal grand jury indictment handed down Friday accused the defendants of staging the May 16, 1995, robbery of Centon Electronics Inc. in Irvine, which reported losses of more than $10 million. It was the largest such robbery in the nation's history, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

In that robbery, as many as 13 men dressed in sport coats and ties drove to the company in a small rental truck and two cars, forced their way inside and held three employees at gunpoint as they removed boxes of computer chips.

Centon Electronics is a privately held computer components company.

The grand jury indictment alleges that two weeks before the robbery, 11 of the defendants robbed Multi-Industry Technology of nearly $400,000 in computer chips.

Two of the defendants, Thanh Lam Nguyen, 22, of Glendale, and Tam Trong Nguyen, 24, of Santa Ana, appeared Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Rosalyn Chapman in Los Angeles and were ordered detained until their June 23 arraignment.

Authorities said they are looking for the two other Southland defendants, Khuong Lay Tang, 24, of Santa Ana and Duc Tan Nguyen, age unknown, who is believed to be a San Gabriel Valley resident.

Nine other defendants are in custody, and four others remain at large.

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