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Ex-agent arrested in O.C. plot

During an undercover probe, the suspect discussed plans for murders and robberies, the FBI says.

July 17, 2008|Scott Glover | Times Staff Writer

A former Chicago FBI agent who has a long and tortured history with the bureau has been arrested following an 18-month undercover investigation in which he was allegedly caught on tape conspiring to commit "murder-for-hire, home-invasion robberies" and other crimes, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Santa Ana.

Vo Duong Tran and an accomplice were arrested by an FBI SWAT team in the parking lot of an Orange County hotel late Monday after they flew to Los Angeles as part of a plan to rob a "narcotics stash pad" in Fountain Valley, authorities allege. Agents and local police seized assault rifles, bulletproof vests and silencers from the men's car and hotel room, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert J. Keenan.

During numerous taped conversations with an FBI informant, Tran allegedly said that he wanted to kill at least two people who owed him money from when he conducted an illegal sports betting operation.

"I want blood," the former agent allegedly said.

Tran also seemed to imply that he had killed before, according to a criminal complaint, which quoted from the purported conversation between him and the informant.

"I have to make sure it has to be done right because all my hits, they are clean," Tran allegedly said to the unidentified informant who was paid by authorities for his efforts.

Keenan said he had no evidence that Tran or his accomplice had actually carried out a robbery, much less a murder.

"The evidence shows they were going to make good on their plan out here," Keenan said. "They did a drive-by of the [location]. Their guns were fully loaded."

Tran and his alleged accomplice, Yu Sung Park, are charged with conspiring to distribute narcotics and interfering with commerce by means of threat or violence. They are in custody, pending a bail hearing set for this afternoon.

Park's attorney, Yolanda Barrera, declined comment.

Tran's attorney, Alex R. Kessel, was traveling and said he had not had the opportunity to read the government's 32-page complaint. But he said he suspected the charges were part of the FBI's "continuing vendetta against my client."

He added that he believed the FBI informant suggested how and where to commit the alleged crimes, which he called "clear evidence of potential entrapment."

Tran has had considerable past dealings with the criminal justice system, both as a federal agent and as a defendant.

He was hired by the FBI in 1992, according to court records, and was eventually assigned to the Chicago field office.

He was suspended nine years later, after admitting to a bureau security officer that he had attempted to bribe a Vietnamese official for information while on a personal trip to Vietnam, according to court records unrelated to the recent case.

A year later he filed a civil lawsuit against the FBI, alleging that he had been subjected to "humiliating, degrading and biased treatment" by his superiors for years because of his race and national origin. The outcome of the case was not immediately clear.

While suspended, he was charged by prosecutors in Illinois with impersonating a peace officer after he allegedly identified himself as an FBI agent at the home of a family he said was being targeted for a home invasion robbery, court records state. Tran was acquitted of all charges.

He was fired from the FBI in April 2003, less than a month after his arrest.

But his relationship with the bureau wasn't over.

In August 2004, he was indicted by federal prosecutors in Atlanta on charges that he fraudulently obtained firearms and silencers by falsely stating that he was a resident of Georgia and that the items were needed in connection with his duties as an FBI agent. The government dismissed the charges when a judge ruled that evidence seized during a search of Tran's Chicago apartment shortly after his suspension from the bureau was inadmissible.

How Tran came under scrutiny in the current case is unclear. According to the complaint, the informant had been talking with Tran since early this year. The lead agent on the case, Andrew Cho, wrote that he witnessed meetings between Tran and the informant in Southern California and Las Vegas.

In tape-recorded conversations, they allegedly discussed bulletproof vests, silencers and "cleaners" needed to commit crimes.

"Cleaners," Cho wrote, are "individuals who would go in first to the robbery location to secure the location and kill individuals who might get in the way, if necessary."

Daniel McMullen, who heads the FBI's criminal division in Los Angeles, said the only influence Tran's history with the bureau had on the current investigation was that the agency altered some investigative techniques so the former agent wouldn't be able to discover he was under scrutiny.

"His being a former agent does not change our desire to address his criminal activity," McMullen said.

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scott.glover@latimes.com

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