Bank fraudsters preyed on Vietnamese community

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly

A member of a bank fraud scheme who threatened people with a firearm to try to collect debts was sentenced last week to six years in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.

Son Pham, 45, pleaded guilty in November 2013 to two counts of attempted collection of extensions of credit by extortionate means, one count of bank fraud, and one count of carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.  Pham admits he used threats of violence to collect debts and that he had arranged for one of his co-conspirators to be armed with a firearm, while the threats were made. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik ordered Pham to pay $115,690 in restitution for the bank fraud scheme.

Chi Anh Nguyen, 45, formerly of Seattle, was the ringleader of the scheme. He admitted in a plea agreement last August that he defrauded banks by exploiting the “float time” from when a credit card bill is considered paid and when the actual payment is received.

An investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) uncovered losses totaling more than $588,000 from eight financial institutions, including Tukwila-based Boeing Employees’ Federal Credit Union (BECU), Bank of America, and Chase Bank. He obtained cash advances at Seattle-area casinos and made purchases at a Tacoma jewelry story and several Chicago-area merchants.

Another co-conspirator, Phone Phommavanh, also pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

According to records filed in the case, Pham and Nguyen defrauded banks by running up credit card and cash advance debts that they never intended to repay.  The men used the identities of others — many of whom participated in the scheme — to access credit cards used to purchase jewelry and other consumer goods or for cash advances at casinos. The men then took a share of the proceeds derived from those transactions.

Pham also loaned money to people in his Vietnamese community and then used threats of violence to try to collect the debts. In October 2012, Pham arranged for one of his cohorts to be armed with a semi-automatic pistol when they confronted an associate of someone owing Pham $10,000. The men claimed the victim was responsible for the other man’s debt. They surrounded him at the Macau Casino in Tukwila and demanded the money while brandishing the gun. In a second instance, also in October 2012, Pham tried to collect a $2,000 debt by threatening to send people to the victim’s home to “cut him.”

The case was investigated by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation. (end)

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