Hawaii Reporter Investigation Leads to Federal Raid Targeting 'Queens of Lottery', Chinatown Gambling Ring
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN AND JIM DOOLEY – Federal agents and police raided two
On Monday, search warrants were served at two apartments in the Palolo Valley Homes low-income public housing complex and at the Thai House restaurant in the Market City Marketplace in Kaimuki.
On Tuesday, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security Investigations as well as Honolulu Police raided four businesses in the Chinatown area as part of the same investigation.
“The underlying investigation involves allegations of an illegal gambling operation,” FBI Special Agent Tom Simon said.
“No one has been charged with a crime or is being arrested at this time,” Simon said.
He declined to discuss details of the case.
Prior to the law enforcement raid, Hawaii Reporter conducted a six-month investigation of the lottery business, including the use of hidden cameras, determining that the gambling proceeds were delivered to a pair of Laotian sisters, Khemma Pannga Xoumanivong, 63, and Bounkouam Khamphilavanh, 47.
The alleged masterminds of this illegal foreign lottery scheme operating in Chinatown and other areas of the island are known around town as the “Queens of lottery.”
They are longtime residents of the Palolo Valley Homes project and their units are just steps away from the manager’s office.
Palolo Housing is a government owned affordable housing complex based in Palolo Valley, where units, which are subsidized by taxpayers, should go to Hawaii’s poorest residents.
Hawaii Reporter confirmed the sisters are also accepting welfare benefits normally reserved for Hawaii’s needy.
Through the lottery operation, the money that the sisters bring in is virtually untraceable.
The series of raids began shortly before 7 p.m. Monday night at Palolo Valley Homes.
Agents also served warrants to search two vehicles belonging to the apartment residents.
Residents of the low-income housing project said one of the women whose apartment was searched used to drive a BMW automobile but more recently was behind the wheel of a new 2012 Mercedes Benz.
Neither woman could be reached for comment yesterday or today.
Residents at Palolo Valley Homes gathered in parking lots and on lawns fronting their units to watch the raid as it unfolded. They said they had no idea illegal activities could have been occurring in the two apartments.
They also said that police visits are a regular occurrence at the housing complex.
The raid began when FBI SWAT officers, clad in green military gear, banged on the doors of the two units at 6:50 p.m. and quickly gained entry to the apartments.
Law enforcement officers next raided the Thai House restaurant in Kaimuki around 8 p.m. last night. At least one of the sisters has a tie to the restaurant ownership.
An employee of the restaurant said on Tuesday the owners aren’t commenting on the raid.
On Tuesday, search warrants were also served at three small businesses in Mauna Kea Marketplace in Chinatown, a privately operated complex that sits on land leased from the City and County of Honolulu. Gibraltar Maunakea LLC, a company based out of Santa Barbara, California, holds the master lease.
The businesses that were targeted including Adam’s Mini-Market, a fresh food vendor; Siamese Monster, which sells music and videos; and a third unnamed food stall that is marked by the numbers 110-C.
Agents also served a search warrant at Hong Fa Market, a fresh food outlet on Maunakea Street near the Marketplace.
The owner of Hong Fa just so happens to work for the non-profit Pacific Gateway Center where interestingly enough he was hired to help Asian immigrants.
The way the lottery works is this: You buy a ticket with either two or three numbers on it. If those same numbers you bought here in Hawaii match the numbers that are drawn back in Thailand on the 15th and 30th of the month, you win. A $10 bet on two matching numbers gets you $700; match three, you win $5,000.
Lottery tickets are sold primary to Laotian and Thai immigrants and residents.
Not every business selling these lottery numbers were raided.
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