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Artichoke Joe's looking at staff

 | Published on 3/16/2011


Artichoke Joe’s is conducting an internal investigation into how some of its employees allegedly preyed on casino customers by offering criminal loans, its attorney Alan Titus said yesterday.

The casino has suspended all employees without pay who worked in the Pai Gow tiles section of the club, including Weylin Fong, the key employee who managed Pai Gow games. The moves were made following a federal investigation related to racketeering and loan-sharking.

The card club’s owner, Dennis Sammut, faces a Gambling Control Commission hearing in April to prove the club has taken “measures to assure the complete cessation of criminal loan-sharking in relation to the operation of controlled games,” according to the stipulations document provided by the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Pai Gow employees will not be rehired until they are evaluated by a gaming expert with law enforcement background, according to a reorganization plan submitted to the Bureau of Gambling Control by Artichoke Joe’s.

Federal officials swarmed Artichoke Joe’s in San Bruno two weeks ago, frisked its patrons and closed the card club’s doors to customers as investigators executed search and arrest warrants as part of a Bay Area-wide investigation into organized crime.

An Emeryville card club was also raided and 14 people were arrested with one more being sought.

Artichoke Joe’s was closed March 2 and was allowed to reopen March 11 after agreeing to meet certain stipulations.

“The internal investigation is being conducted because the state has not shared any information with us,” said Titus, who represents the casino.

An undercover agent allegedly came into the card club and took out loans at least eight times from some of the conspirators, Titus said. The last time the agent came into the casino was last August, Titus said.

“We wish investigators had been more cooperative rather than confrontational,” he said.

Sammut said Thursday he thought the casino had the proper security and measures in place to prevent criminal activity.

“Clearly we now know we didn’t do enough and need to do more,” Sammut wrote in a prepared statement just hours before the casino was permitted to reopen its doors.

Titus said protecting the casino’s customers was critical.

“We don’t want our customers to have any experience other than enjoying the games,” Titus said.

Artichoke Joe’s offers Texas Hold-Em, Omaha and Pai Gow among its games.

To reopen, the casino agreed to stop offering Pai Gow games played with tiles and to not use the podium or satellite cage in the Pai Gow section of the card club to store gambling equipment, cash, chips or cash equivalents.

Pai Gow is a Chinese gambling game played with a set of Chinese dominoes, or tiles. 

During the course of executing about 20 search warrants March 2, federal agents seized several hundred thousand dollars in cash and thousands of dollars worth of casino gambling chips, jewelry and valuables, several pounds of narcotics and numerous firearms, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Arrested were Cuong Mach Binh Tieu, Lap The Chung, Bob Yuen, Ding Lin, Skyler Chang, Chea Bou, May Chung, Hung Tieu, Thanh The Chu, Kwai Ping Wong, John Hinyu Chew, Bao Tran, Bao Hung Phung and Billy Ket Chau.

The suspects are charged with racketeering, loan sharking and drug sales, among other charges, and acted independently from casino ownership. Many of the defendants offered casino chips as loans, according to an indictment. Only four of the 15 sought in the investigation actually worked for either casino.

The defendants referred to themselves as “one family” and the enterprise worked collectively out of the Asian gaming sections of the two casinos. Most members of the enterprise primarily worked at and through one casino or the other, according to the indictment.

Moving forward, Artichoke Joe’s will offer its employees special training sessions related to loan-sharking, illegal drugs and large or suspicious cash transactions.

It must also provide that its surveillance of the public areas is monitored live by trained staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week and allow the Bureau of Gambling Control, upon request, immediate and full investigatory access to its operational security and surveillance, including video. The casino must also provide full access to any of its 300 employees to investigators.

If Artichoke Joe’s is not able to settle the issue with the Bureau of Gambling Control by April 11, the matter will be turned over to an administrative law judge in Sacramento to commence no later than May 2.

Artichoke Joe’s operates 40 poker tables and is one of the largest taxpayers in the city of San Bruno and is active in civic and charitable causes.