BR-area police agencies receive $480,000 seized in money-laundering scheme

Acting U.S. Attorney Walt Green distributed more than $480,000 in seized drug money to local and federal law enforcement agencies Tuesday in Baton Rouge.

The confiscated cash was a tiny portion of the more than $530 million that flowed swiftly through a small convenience store between 2005 and the end of 2009, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kleinpeter said. Kleinpeter prosecuted the case.

That money has not been recovered.

Green said the cash distributed Tuesday was seized from bank accounts controlled by the Quality Express convenience store, 1526 N. Foster Drive, and former owner Thang “Tommy” Minh Tran, 43, who was sent to federal prison in October for 70 months.

Tran pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money and two counts of money laundering. He also forfeited $855,885 of $992,462 in bank deposits seized after his arrest. The remaining money was forfeited by corporate owners Katelyn & Claire Inc. and Alex T. Inc. Each corporation pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.

“This was the biggest one-day seizure of cash ever in the Middle District of Louisiana,” Kleinpeter said.

She has stated in court records Tran’s and the convenience store’s cash deposits were split among dozens of bank accounts and moved to other locations rapidly.

Two former Quality Express employees — brothers Son “Tatoo” Nguyen, 39, of Baton Rouge, and Thahn “Money” Nguyen, 30, of New Orleans — also were sent to prison after they admitted they sold 1,000 tablets of Ecstasy in the store’s parking lot on Feb. 25, 2009.

Because the Nguyen brothers’ nicknames were similar to those of characters in a particular crime movie, the joint investigation became known as “Tango and Cash.”

Son Nguyen is serving a 57-month prison term; Thahn Nguyen is serving 27 months.

Both the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Baton Rouge Police Department received awards of $155,117.

Another $68,941 was awarded to the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and $34,470 each to the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and Gonzales Police Department, all for law enforcement efforts.

The Internal Revenue Service also participated in the investigation.