By John Rondy
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Twenty-four people were charged Thursday with federal drug trafficking and gambling offenses in a ring that stretched from the Pacific Northwest to Minnesota, Milwaukee and northern Illinois.
Following a year-long investigation, the defendants, all of Hmong descent, were charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, and 13 were accused with operating an illegal gambling business, said U.S. Attorney James Santelle.
Hundreds of pounds of marijuana were transported by couriers from Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle to Minnesota, southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Santelle said. The couriers also transported bulk cash and illegal gambling proceeds back to the marijuana suppliers in the Pacific Northwest, he said.
Odds on sporting events were sent via text message, and bets were placed just as quickly, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Sanders, who is prosecuting the case.
More than $800,000 in cash was seized from residences, business and safe deposit boxes in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, bringing total cash seized to about $1.3 million, Santelle said. About 25 pounds of marijuana was seized along with drug trafficking and gambling ledgers, firearms, a bullet-proof vest, jewelry, and vehicles.
All but one of the defendants is in custody. U.S. Marshals are looking for Vinh V. Trinh, 44, of Los Angeles.
The Hmong are an ethnic group originating out of southeast Asia. Many Hmong immigrants live in California, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
(Writing and reporting by John Rondy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)