On January 14, vice cops fanned out across East Dallas and descended on a half dozen aging storefronts in crappy, low-rent strip centers: one off Columbia Avenue a mile east of Deep Ellum, another where Garland Road transitions from isn't-it-nice-to-be-near-White-Rock-Lake! to all-beauty-has-been-extinguished-from-the-world, the rest along Ferguson Road. Later, they visited a much nicer locale -- a quarter-million dollar custom home in a newish Grand Prairie subdivision, complete with a front-yard fountain and turret. Their target: a minor local video gambling empire allegedly operated by 45-year-old Thuy Kha, aka "Tweety," and her boyfriend, Duc Tu Nguyen, aka "Andy."
Police had been investigating the couple for the better part of a year. On April 29 last year, vice cops made their first undercover visit, a detective visiting a Ferguson Road game room for a few rounds of "Spin Jack 21." While he played, he watched surreptitiously as Kha moved from machine to machine, opening them up to remove the cash. When she was done, she drove away in a silver 2004 Mercedes.
The investigation continued for the next several months and primarily consisted of cops playing video blackjack and following Kha and Nguyen on their daily errands. Sometimes the cops would win, once, for example, cashing out for $80 on a $40 bet. Other times, they would just play until they exhausted $20 or $40 worth of credits. Always they were watching.
On May 14, for instance, a detective watched Nguyen delivering supplies to the game room in his 2012 Nissan Frontier. Two days later, an undercover officer overheard Kha and game room employees trying to figure out how to deal with the jackpot another gambler scored on a malfunctioning machine. He tailed Kha when she left the location, following her to Braum's, where she picked up groceries. In August, two vice cops were playing at the Garland Road location -- their illegal-gambling hunch no doubt helped by the large "Game Room" sign out front -- when Nguyen and Kha came to collect cash from the machines. They had their dog with them; it's name was Lucky.
Midway through the investigation, the cops affixed a tracking device to Nguyen's pickup. The GPS device traced a daily path from the Ferguson storefronts to the one off Garland Road to east of Deep Ellum to the house in Grand Prairie. Later, they sent a detail to the Grand Prairie home to dig through Kha's garbage. They discovered, from discarded mail they found there, that Kha corresponds with at least one Texas prison inmate; that she owns Lucky Nails, a nail salon in Lancaster; and that some people incorrectly spell her name "Tweetie."
The takeaway from the nine-month investigation was that Kha and Nguyen were running an illegal gambling operation. The case was bolstered when police made their January 14 sweep and carried away 169 video gambling machines and 111 detached motherboards from video gambling machines. A subsequent analysis of 37 of the machines indicated that, between August 1, 2014, and the January 14 raid, those 37 machines reported $2.8 million in wagers and $1.7 million in payouts for a net profit of $1.1 million. Many of the machines were purchased from Lone Star Slots on Interstate 35 in Lancaster, which sells new and used gambling equipment after making purchasers swear they will use it exclusively for home entertainment purposes, which is legal in Texas.
Police recovered about half that amount, seizing stockpiles of cash found at Kha's home ($146,528) and at a couple of local banks ($524,800). They also seized 56 gold bars which, at 37.5 grams each, have a current value of around $91,000, both the Mercedes and the Nissan Frontier, and a few dozen pieces of jewelry, presumably including the $12,628 Rolex Kha bought in 2013.
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Neither Kha nor Nguyen has been arrested. According to the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, they both have outstanding warrants for engaging in organized crime. On Wednesday, the district attorney's office filed a civil forfeiture claim against the couple arguing that police should be allowed to keep the cash, cars, gold, jewelry and various electronics on the grounds that they were used in or the product of a criminal enterprise.
Yet judging by police documents and the dozen or so variously sized pairs of shoes left by the front mat of her home (apparently empty) on Thursday, Kha is much more than the mastermind of a small-time gambling enterprise. She's also a family woman. She lives with her two adult children and her elderly father. He told police he was under the impression that his daughter's only source of income was the nail salon, whose profit typically hovers around $30,000 per year. He also told police that he gets $730 per month in Social Security payments, of which he gives his daughter $430 for rent.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.