Former head of Westminster’s Saigon National Bank at center drug money laundering operation, feds say
The former head of the Westminster-based Saigon National Bank was the center of a global money laundering operation whose clients included members of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, the United States Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
The schemes revolved around Tu Chau “Bill” Lu, 71, of Fullerton, who served from 2009 to 2015 as the bank’s president and chief executive officer, authorities said. Lu and 15 other men were named in a racketeering indictment unsealed Thursday in Los Angeles.
In total, 20 defendants are charged in three indictments related to the scheme.
Thursday’s indictment named Lu and five others as “playing key roles in a series of schemes to launder drug proceeds” in violation of the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The other five are Tsung Wen “Peter” Hung, 61, of Monterey Park; Edward Kim, 56, of Beverly Hills; John Edmundson, a British citizen who lives in Hong Kong; and Mexican citizens Pablo Hernandez, 75, of Tijuana, Mexico, and Emilio Herrera, 53, who lives in Spring Valley, the Attorney’s Office said.
Edmundson is being sought by authorities.
The indictment alleges the six men worked as a criminal organization to traffic drugs and launder money in countries that include the United States, China, Cambodia, Liechtenstein, Mexico and Switzerland. A representative of the bank couldn’t be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon.
“Basically word gets out that they’re available to help people launder money,“ said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the Justice Department. “These guys had long-standing connections and were doing business and money laundering for years.”
At one point, the defendants discussed selling a controlling interest in the bank with an informant and an undercover law enforcement officer posing as his boss, he said.
“Various people are essentially solicited to purchase the bank with the argument being, ‘Look, if you buy this bank or if you have at least a controlling interest, you can kind of do whatever the hell you want,’” Mrozek said.
They also proposed forming a foundation in Liechtenstein to move money around the world. The informant and another undercover law enforcement officer told Lu the foundation would allow them to launder money from drug sales in Europe and that drugs had been traded for weapons in Nigeria, the Attorney’s Office said.
In 2008, the bank was given a $1.2 million investment from the Treasury Department to encourage lending.
Lu “played a critical role” in introducing the informant to Sinaloa cartel members who wanted to launder millions of dollars each month, according to the indictment.
The Sinaloa cartel invested $1 million in Saigon National Bank, and Lu discussed the cartel’s possible purchase, authorities said.
Four of the other defendants named in the indictment are from Orange County. They are Ben Ho, 41, and Lien Tran, 41, both of Santa Ana; Dr. Truong “Andrew” Nguyen, 34, of Westminster, who is still being sought; and Tom Huynh, 57, also known as the “The Fat Guy,” of Westminster.