Northern Virginia police said they have crippled an illegal gambling ring run by a local gang in Falls Church after seizing more than $1 million in cash and 70 gaming machines in a raid Thursday night.
Police raided 13 cafes at Eden Center in Falls Church, a vibrant hub of Vietnamese cafes, bars and markets on Wilson Boulevard near Seven Corners, authorities announced Friday. They said a gang known as Dragon Family, which police officials said had “access” to the cafes, had been operating illegal gaming machines.
Police said they are working to track down gang leaders and members involved in the ring. They have arrested 19 people on a variety of misdemeanor charges that include gambling and alcohol violations.
Falls Church police said they have long suspected illegal gambling and gang-related activity at Eden Center. Past efforts to penetrate the ring were unsuccessful, and Falls Church police reached out to the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, a federally funded group of local, state and federal officials, for help last fall.
“Simply put, the nature and scope of the problem were beyond the resources of this department,” Falls Church Police Chief Harry Reitze said Friday at a news conference.
The task force’s operation, dubbed “Aces and Eights,” was carried out over several months, and police said they thought Thursday night’s raid would significantly curtail gambling and other illegal activity at Eden Center, home to 120 small businesses, many of them family-owned.
Police said the Dragon Family, a Vietnamese gang, has members who range in age from 15 to 50. Police said they have identified gang leadership but could not comment on pending charges.
The gang placed several gaming machines in cafes in Eden Center, and customers could insert bills ranging from $1 to $100 to play games such as poker and blackjack, according to Prince William County Police Lt. Daniel Hess, the task force commander.
“If you weren’t looking closely, you would think it was simply for entertainment purposes,” Hess said.
Gang activity at the Eden Center has “paralyzed” the community’s ability to run legitimate businesses, Hess said. “The majority of businesses there are legitimate and have to put up with gangsters in and around the area,” he said.
Police said they have evidence of other illegal gang-related activity, including extortion and drug dealing. Several stabbings and violent assaults reported in the area over the past year may be connected to the Dragon Family, police said.
Police said business owners and members of the Vietnamese community have thanked them. One person told police he had lost $100,000, they said.
“This is the heart of the community,” said Tyler Nguyen, who was having lunch at Cafe Dang. “We come here and socialize. It’s a great place to be.”