The Asian gang that has plundered California computer firms in armed daylight attacks--including the largest robbery of computer chips in U.S. history--has been a well-oiled, efficient machine for years, according to testimony by an FBI agent.
The organized crime syndicate with four tiers of operators from bosses to crews was responsible for more than 30 armed robberies and attempted heists from Boston to San Diego, from Florida to Oregon, Special Agent Diane Spindel testified Wednesday in a federal court detention hearing in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, prosecutors released details of a grand jury indictment charging 17 people from across California with so-called takeover robberies of two Southern California computer firms.
More than 50 gang members have been indicted nationwide in the last year on charges ranging from racketeering and robbery to heroin trafficking and smuggling of illegal immigrants, according to Spindel's written testimony submitted late Wednesday.
"The coordinated investigation by the various federal, state and local law enforcement authorities has had a substantial impact on this particular type of criminal activity," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Christopher D. Johnson in Los Angeles.
Police agencies in Northern California have reported that "things are very quiet up here since the gang was taken down," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Elizabeth Lee in San Francisco.
The investigation is believed to be continuing, though the prosecutors wouldn't acknowledge it.
None of the 17 indicted this week entered pleas. That will come at their arraignments, expected within the next few weeks.
Spindel's testimony provides an inside view of the gang's operation from two years' worth of wiretaps as part of the investigation by the FBI and the federal Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force.
Several crews, for instance, were dispatched to Irvine, where they tried "six or eight times" in a month to storm Centon Electronics Inc. before successfully carting away $10 million in computer chips and other products on May 15, 1995, Spindel said.
Even the bosses, all now in custody, were highly involved, she said. Kevin Liu had scouted Centon and recommended it as a target and later counseled a crew leader after several of the failed attempts.
John That Luong and Jimmy Luong wired $280,000 for "incidental expenses," and Mady Chan was the lead boss, talking often with crew leaders and congratulating them on "a job well done," Spindel said.
Gang members shared at least $2.7 million from the robbery as much of the haul was sold in the black market for stolen computer parts, she testified.
Authorities have said the robbery is the biggest armed attack on a U.S. computer firm.
Prosecutors identified the top of four "bosses" as John Luong, who has been detained without bail in San Francisco since he and 23 others were indicted there in April 1996. He has pleaded innocent in that case. He also is one of the 17 indicted in Los Angeles.
The bosses reviewed possible targets, planned the attacks and paid for guns and other tools needed. They also paid attorney fees and bail for those who were arrested.
Luong, for instance, told Liu that he had paid $64,000 to defense attorneys in Minnesota after crew members were arrested in a bungled robbery there, Spindel wrote. Disagreements over money also broke out among the bosses as they demanded contributions from each other.
Under the bosses were the middlemen, including three informants. They carried out the robbery plans, recruiting crew chiefs, establishing escape routes and obtaining rental trucks, safe houses and motel rooms.
Spindel said the crew chiefs put together the crews and directed the operations while the crew members executed the plan--holding employees hostage while robbing the businesses. Crew members then transported the stolen goods to the bosses.
The bosses used so-called sales brokers to help find black-market customers out of state and in foreign countries to buy the chips, she said.
Prosecutors have said much of the property went to Asian countries to be put in computers that were later sold on the U.S. market.