Va. gang task force gets $850K from controversial gambling raid

Eden Center gambling machines.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - U.S. Marshals on Friday gave a regional gang task force in northern Virginia more than $850,000 in funds seized during a controversial gambling raid last year at the Eden Center in Falls Church, a hub of Vietnamese culture in the region.

The check presentation Friday relied on funds seized during a yearlong investigation of what authorities called the Dragon Family gang, which they say ran an illegal gambling ring at Eden Center. More than $1 million was seized in the raids, which were conducted in August.

The investigation resulted in several gambling convictions but also in several acquittals. And some Eden Center business owners complained the raids were unjustified, that there was no such thing as the Dragon Family gang and that business has suffered since.

The president of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Washington and a business owner in Falls Church said Friday that while he and others generally appreciate the police work at Eden Center, the gambling investigation has been a disaster that has ruined the Eden Center's reputation.

"There is no Dragon Family," said Binh Nguyen. "These are not gang members. These are customers."

At Friday's news conference, the task force defended its work and said it has received thanks from the Vietnamese community. Ray Colgan, the task force's executive director, and Falls Church Police Chief Harry Reitze, both said they have received positive feedback from Eden Center customers - primarily Vietnamese - who say the gambling raids helped clean up the place. Colgan said most of the cases brought by authorities have resulted in convictions.

Nguyen said the convictions have been misdemeanors, and that as a result many defendants decided it was easier to plead guilty than to spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer to defend themselves.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a supporter of the gang task force who attended Friday's presentation, defended the police work there.

"Because of (police), it's safe to go to Eden Center," Wolf said. "There's no apologizing for it. It's a very positive thing."

Colgan said the gambling investigation is over. But there may be court cases that have yet to make their way through the system, officials said.