That, authorities say, left White marked for death. He was abducted in January 2019 and killed by the Reccless Tigers, according to court records. His body was left in a wooded area of an upscale Richmond neighborhood modeled on an English village.
The alleged hit detailed in a sweeping federal indictment brought Thursday is the most brazen act attributed to the Reccless Tigers, a gang that was unknown a decade ago but has metastasized into a potent criminal organization that reaches from Southern California to Northern Virginia.
In addition to White’s killing, authorities have connected the gang to the slaying of a George Mason University student, a dozen firebombings, the distribution of large quantities of marijuana and cocaine, the trafficking of firearms, witness intimidation, money laundering, and the targeting of a prominent local rapper.
Three have been charged with murder in connection with kidnapping and drug trafficking, among a group of seven charged Thursday with racketeering and other crimes. In all, nearly 30 associates have been charged federally in recent months in a sprawling years-long investigation that is among the largest gang probes in the D.C. area in recent years.
Nguyen and several others pleaded guilty earlier this year to their involvement in the gang activity.
The Reccless Tigers cultivated a flashy image, splashed across Instagram and Twitter. Members posted photos and videos of themselves driving expensive cars, partying in Las Vegas, shooting assault rifles and showing off exotic snakes. They are often pictured in their own line of clothing, festooned with tigers. An FBI agent testified at a previous hearing that higher-level members wore robes from their preferred designer, Versace.
While area gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang mostly engage in low-level street crime, the Tigers are distinguished by their ambition, gang experts say. They established a sophisticated and lucrative drug distribution network that was bolstered by ruthless violence. Some members even had business cards.
Tigers in California supplied marijuana that their Virginia partners sold, making millions, according to court records. Alleged gang leader Tony Le invested about $200,000 in his marijuana farm in Northern California and would send Tigers from Virginia there to work off drug debts, court records state. Drivers would bring it down to Orange County for shipment back to Fairfax County for sale. Younger “Club Tiger” members distributed the drugs at high schools.
They used their clothing line and a vape shop to cover up drug proceeds, according to investigators and testimony. They also moved between Airbnbs and used cash apps to transfer money, authorities said, allowing the full extent of their activities to go undetected for years.
“Tony absolutely denies the allegations — the leadership role, the founding role. He certainly is looking forward to his day in court,” his attorney, Robert Jenkins, said. He noted that his client was not charged in the slaying.
Jay Lanham, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, said the gang may be smaller than rivals in the region but poses a new kind of threat.
“They are more organized. They are more focused on and motivated by money,” Lanham said. “They are heavily involved in drug distribution. They are one of the largest marijuana distributors in Northern Virginia.”
Killing on a cold day
Prosecutors say Peter Le, Tony Le’s brother, told associates of the gang they could pay off drug debts by helping lure White.
Peter Le’s attorney, Lana Manitta, said she could not yet comment on the specific allegations, “but I remind the public of the presumption of innocence, and we intend to mount a vigorous defense.”
White, 21, was picked up at his grandmother’s house in Falls Church by the gang associates who were supposedly interested in a drug deal on Jan. 31, 2019, prosecutors say. White was then forced into a Subaru and sped down the highway to Richmond with his killers, according to the indictment.
He was last seen on surveillance video at a gas station that night, with the two gang associates who have since pleaded guilty to involvement in the kidnapping.
He was eventually driven to Richmond’s Windsor Farms neighborhood, where Peter Le and two gang members stabbed and shot him to death, according to the indictment. Attorneys for the latter two gang members declined to immediately comment.
Family members reported White missing on Feb. 2, telling police they were concerned about him because he had previously been involved with the Reccless Tigers, according to a search warrant. White’s family declined to comment.
It was not the first slaying authorities have tied to the Tigers.
The indictment links the gang to the killing of 21-year-old George Mason University student Hosung Lee, also known as Steven, although no member is charged in his death.
Prosecutors say that at a days-long house party in Herndon in April 2016 attended by both Reccless Tigers and West Coast gang members, Lee got in a fight with one gang member.
Ten to 15 individuals attacked Lee, stomping, kicking and punching him as he lay on the floor of the kitchen, according to the indictment. One was Peter Le, the Tiger charged in White’s death, the indictment said.
In the melee, Lee was stabbed and left the party not realizing his wounds were life-threatening. Friends took him to his home in Centreville, Va., and placed him in bed, according to court records. Family members found Lee dead there that afternoon.
Lee’s family did not respond to requests for comment, but hundreds of people turned out for his funeral at Herndon’s Open Door Presbyterian Church, where Lee was a member of a youth group.
“It was shocking news for the pastors and to many [youth group] volunteers,” the youth group wrote in a Facebook post. “Many of you have known Steven as a friend, older brother and even as a small group leader.”
A quick ascent
The rise of the Reccless Tigers has been swift.
Authorities say the gang has ties to the Asian Boyz, one of the nation’s largest Asian gangs. The Asian Boyz formed in the early 1970s in Long Beach, Calif., drawing members from immigrant communities from Southeast Asia. Members traveled to the East Coast roughly a decade ago to provide instruction to the nascent Reccless Tigers and still wield influence and members among them.
While its roots are in Asian gangs, the Tigers have recruited a racially diverse cadre of members. As in some other gangs, members have to be “jumped in” by a beating. Prosecutors say they engaged in four escalating levels of retribution for slights — burglary, assault, arson and murder.
The gang has also turned violently on its own. FBI agents said, according to testimony, that they witnessed several members attack Peter Le with a baseball bat outside a tattoo parlor in Springfield, Va., in late 2017.
The first time the Reccless Tigers surfaced publicly was in 2013. Fairfax County police charged members of a subset of the gang with gun and weapons violations after a five-month investigation by the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force.
While serving a search warrant, police said they recovered an M4 rifle, 10 pounds of marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine, as well as thousands of dollars in cash. The arrests resulted in several convictions.
Investigators also suspect members of the Reccless Tigers targeted a prominent D.C.-area rapper in 2016. A group of six to eight men showed up at a recording studio and asked a producer whether it was used by the rapper, according to a search warrant.
The men smashed a TV over the producer’s head, and punched and kicked him, before stealing thousands of dollars worth of recording equipment, court records show. The owner of the equipment soon received calls from someone saying he could buy back his equipment for $7,000, according to a search warrant.
Fairfax County police later arrested Khalil Yasin, of Annandale, and he was convicted of robbery. During a preliminary hearing in the case, Yasin’s attorney told prosecutors that members of the Reccless Tigers were in the courthouse watching Yasin to ensure he didn’t testify, court records show.
Another person who knew of the Reccless Tigers’ involvement in the case said gang members threatened to burn his house down if he said anything about it, court records show.
But drug dealing was the gang’s most profitable venture — one it had grown from a small street-level operation to one that operated on both coasts, court records show. One member alone sold more than $1.5 million worth of marijuana during a recent two-year period, according to a search warrant filed in federal court. The gang sold drugs openly on social media and via websites. Members wore and sold T-shirts emblazoned with “Strugcess,” their term for high-grade marijuana, court records show.
Beginning in February 2019, federal authorities indicted members of the Tigers on drug distribution and firearm charges. Ten members of the gang have pleaded guilty to drug charges as part of a plea deal with prosecutors in federal court in Alexandria.
Despite the extensive case against the gang, members were still active as of earlier this year, a search warrant recently unsealed in Fairfax County shows. A gang member in an Audi crashed into a man on a motorcycle in Fairfax County in March, sending him sprawling across the pavement.
The case is ongoing, but court records state the gang member had a clear and chilling message for the victim: “You better watch out or you will end up like Lil B.”
Investigators believe the threat was a reference to Brandon White.