Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced the arrests of five members of a suspected loan-sharking syndicate, headed by a reputed Chinese mobster, that trapped casino gamblers in a “never-ending loop of debt and fear” by loaning them hundreds of thousands of dollars at exorbitant interest rates.
Working inside tribal casinos in the Sacramento area – including Red Hawk and Thunder Valley — over the last 18 months, the suspects often preyed on Asian gamblers. Once the gamblers accepted loans, the amount they owed began to skyrocket. Some were charged 5 percent interest a week. Because of high interest rates and other charges, one gambler’s $100,000 loan mushroomed to $400,000 in five months.
“Loan shark enterprises like this one terrorize people through spiraling financial obligations and threats of violence,” Brown said. “Victims are trapped in a never-ending loop of debt and fear.”
Authorities said there were about 40 victims.
The charges against the five suspects include felony assault, extortion and conspiracy. Other suspects are being sought.
Among those arrested was the leader of the enterprise, Weixiong Kuang, 44, a suspected member of an organized crime syndicate called the Big Circle Boys, a violent gang out of China.
Working with a staff of armed collectors, lenders and bodyguards for more than 18 months, Kuang met his potential victims by visiting high-limit tables at casinos in the Sacramento area. He would befriend gamblers who suffered losses and offer to loan them money. If repayments were slow, Kuang would threaten the borrowers or threaten to hurt family members living in China. He is suspected of assaulting two gamblers who did not pay their debts, including one woman who was hospitalized for her injuries.
Kuang was arrested on two counts of felony assault, three counts of extortion, and felony conspiracy. Jian Liu, 43, Zhi Huang, 23, Yezhi Lei, 46, and Zi Zhen, 35, were arrested for felony conspiracy. All were booked into the El Dorado County Jail.
During searches of several residences in Sacramento, law enforcement agents found an assault rifle, large amounts of cash and some drugs.
Initiated in October 2009, the investigation was prompted by reports from citizens in the Sacramento region. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Gambling Control worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Sacramento Police Department, tribal gaming authorities, as well as the Red Hawk Casino and the Thunder Valley Casino.
For more information about the Bureau of Gambling Control, please see http://ag.ca.gov/gambling/.