BY JIM DOOLEY AND MALIA ZIMMERMAN — The “Thai lottery” case being investigated by federal authorities and police here involves “a mom and pop operation that’s been going on for 20 years within the Laotian and Thai communities,” defense attorney Myles Breiner said today.
Agents from the FBI, IRS and Homeland Security as well as HPD officers staged a series of raids in late April, seizing more than $120,000 in cash, jewelry and other evidence from two public housing apartments and various Honolulu shops and restaurants.
The raids followed a six-month investigation by Hawaii Reporter which determined that tickets to a locally-run lottery game patterned after the legal national lottery in Thailand were being sold from small groceries, retail shops and restaurants in Honolulu.
Breiner represents Viladda Mixayvanh, an official of Thai House restaurant, one of the businesses raided in April.
Mixayvanh is a relative of two women whose units in the state-run Palolo Valley public housing complex were also raided by federal agents and police.
No one has been charged in the case to date.
“The case is under investigation,” said Asst. U.S. Attorney Michael Kawahara, declining further comment.
Defense lawyer Rustam Barbee, who represents one of the Palolo Valley residents, Khemma Pannga Xoumanivong, 63, said, “I’m looking forward to having an initial meeting with the prosecutor” about the case.
He declined further comment.
Xoumanivong is the sister of Bounkouam Khamphilavanh, 47, another Palolo resident whose home was searched by authorities.
Both are longtime residents of the complex, where units are rented to tenants who meet state and federal low-income qualifications. Their units are steps away from the resident manager’s office
Hawaii Reporter confirmed earlier this year that the pair were also receiving welfare benefits.
Residents of the housing complex said one of the sisters was driving a new 2012 Mercedes Benz before the raid.
Breiner said he didn’t believe any of the alleged lottery participants “makes much money, if any money at all” from the lottery.
“It’s a bunch of old fogies,” he said. “Their average age is 65 to 85 years old.”
Breiner said law enforcement would better serve the community by targeting illegal game rooms which offer dice, card and video gambling and also attract the illegal drug trade.
As to the cash and jewelry seized by authorities, Breiner said, “All these people have their own businesses – restaurants and jewelry stores. It’s very easy to say the cash they had came from the lottery but I beg to differ.”
Some of the jewelry seized by law enforcement was “family heirlooms brought here from Laos,” he said.
Lottery vendors sold two- or three-digit tickets at prices starting at $5.
The game was patterned after Thailand’s national lottery. Winning numbers in the official Thai game, drawn on the 15th and 30th of each month, were also winning numbers here.
A $10 bet on two matching numbers won $700; three matching numbers won $5,000.
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