A suspect in a San Diego County Sheriff's Department investigation told detectives she flew to China and Vietnam to get millions of dollars worth of fake casino chips and labels for local casinos.
That's according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by NBC 7.
On Christmas Day, Barona Resort and Casino security guards alerted San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) deputies to a pair spotted switching their glasses, closely inspecting casino chips and moving chips from the table to a purse, according to the document.
The security guards had stumbled upon an international counterfeiting operation stretching into Southeast Asia and possibly impacting several local casinos on Indian reservations.
Deputies arrested Lien Do, Hao Nguyen and Ben Ven Pham on Christmas Day last year, after a detective asked a judge for a search warrant for Pham and Do's Garden Grove home.
At the casino, Sheriff detectives found $300,000 worth of counterfeit chips in the suspects' car.
"It appears that what they were seeking to do was convert those chips into cash and to walk out the casino with the cash," said District Attorney Prosecutor Daniel Shim.
The defendants were charged with multiple felonies, including grand theft, burglary, forgery and possession of counterfeit marks. Charges were later dropped against Nguyen and he returned to Vietnam, according to the DA's office. Do and Pham plead guilty to felony burglary and forgery charges and are serving one-year jail terms, Shim said.
"When the sheriff's department searched their home in Garden Grove, they found about $2 million in casino labels," Shim said. "During Mr. Pham's interview, he indicated he received those chips from Vietnam."
Another suspect told detectives she had flown to Vietnam and China. Detectives found casino player cards for Sycuan, Pala, Pechanga and Viejas.
"Phan's plan was to defraud Barona Casino in an attempt to defraud Barona Casino out of enough money to purchase a new home for his fiance," the search warrant states.
It remains unclear if any fake chips were used in any of the other casinos for which Pham had player's cards.
"The Sheriff's department did a great job in investigating this case. They did a very thorough investigation," Shim said. "It is still unknown if the operation had any ties to organized crimes."