The Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force served 13 warrants Thursday in connection with an illegal gambling operation at a shopping center in Falls Church, the agency announced Friday.
All of the warrants were served at the Eden Center, a shopping complex on Wilson Boulevard near Seven Corners. They seized $1 million in cash and numerous gambling machines. Police say the confiscated machines look like regular video games, with a money slot on the side. Before customers realize it, they've emptied their wallets.
Nineteen people were charged with various misdemeanor offenses including gambling, fireworks, and ABC violations, police said. Several felony arrests are pending. Sixteen jurisdictions cooperate in the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force.
A rise in violent crime in the area brought the operation to the attention of the task force. "There's been stabbings there's been shootings, we know first hand there's extortion," Hess said.
The center is stocked with jewelry stores, hair salons and other businesses. The gaming machines and a million dollars cash were confiscated at 13 cafes and one other business, police said.
They believe that a predominantly Vietnamese gang called the Dragon Family is responsible.
Lt. Dan Hess of the regional gang task force said police have evidence that the gang members were "very actively involved" in the business and took money out of machines at the end of the day.
Shopper Mei Zheng says that's the reason she only comes to Eden Center during the daytime. Some families say word of such gang activity makes them concerned about bringing their families here.
"It's very nerve-wrecking, you come out with family and kids, it's not someplace you really want to be if there's dangerous activity going on," said shopper Nasrin Safi. "It does make feel nervous."