Ex-FBI Agent Busted, Claims It Was Really an Undercover Operation

[Moxley Confidential] Highly trained ex-law-enforcement officers planned armed heist, plus parolee accuses sheriff's department and OC Register of unexplained racism

Ex-FBI Agent Busted, Claims It Was Really an Undercover Operation
Bob Aul

The would-be bandits plotting an Orange County home-invasion robbery with a $500,000 cash payday couldn't be classified as amateurs. They were highly trained ex-law-enforcement officers who'd taken pains to mask travel from Chicago and New Orleans to Room 110 at a Ramada Inn in Fountain Valley. They purchased prepaid, throwaway cell phones, bulletproof vests, camouflage clothes, heavy-duty zip ties for handcuffing and, because the targeted house was in a tranquil neighborhood, silencers. Resistance wouldn't be tolerated. In addition to more than 600 rounds of ammo, they collected potent armaments including an AR-15 machine gun, a Colt M4 carbine assault rifle, a .22-caliber Ruger Mark II semi-automatic gun, a 38-caliber Smith & Wesson, and a 45-caliber Glock 21. They also displayed finesse, attaching a netting pouch to retain shell casings expended after firing a primary weapon. 

On the night before the scheduled July 2008 robbery, the organizers—Vo Duong Tran, formerly an FBI special agent who performed top-secret service for the U.S. Senate during President Bill Clinton's term, and ex-Illinois cop Yu Sung Park—met other accomplices in the hotel room to finalize plans. The participants, including four Korean hoodlums from Los Angeles, would perform specific roles inside and outside the targeted residence, a narcotics stash house used in Southern California cocaine trafficking. To minimize risk, the bandits planned to avoid carrying personal identification, clear each room by using one of the occupants as a human shield and execute anyone who attempted to flee. They'd even decided to greet the potential arrival of police by unleashing the AR-15, a move that Tran boasted would kill five officers in one second.

But the robbery never happened because two of the men meeting with Tran and Park had been posing as criminals when, in fact, one was an active, undercover FBI agent and the other the agency's confidential source. A raid of the hotel room resulted in arrests, weapons confiscation and damning covert recordings of the plot. In 2010, following guilty verdicts in a jury trial, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford sentenced the men to terms of 30 years in prison each.

Bob Aul
Vo Duong Tran's mugshot
Vo Duong Tran's mugshot

Details

From his penitentiary cell in Louisiana, Tran—who arrived in the U.S. as a 10-year-old boat refugee from communist Vietnam in 1978 and has Americanized his first name to Ben—recently filed an appeal inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in hopes of overturning his conviction. He blames his defense lawyer for gross incompetence and his old colleagues inside the FBI of framing him in a vendetta after a decade of service that ended with his firing in 2003. According to Tran, agency officials resented him for filing formal complaints against a Caucasian supervisor prone to uttering anti-Asian slurs. In contrast, according to the FBI, he was an ethical nightmare involved in bribery, document falsification and posing as an agent after he'd been placed on administrative leave. They also claim he failed to surrender such special-agent gear as his gun, entry tools, binoculars and night-vision equipment.

Tran's most fascinating assertion, however, involves Alex Dao, a convicted felon and the FBI's confidential source in the home-invasion robbery case, according to court records. He claims he faked the robbery plot as a way to expose Dao, impress agency officials with his crime-fighting skills and win reinstatement to his special agent post with a dramatic citizen's arrest. Instead, he says, the agency secretly paid Dao untold sums to help build a case against him and hid impeaching information that rendered his trial unfair.

At a glance, the ex-agent's tale is preposterous. A fired, 10-year veteran of the FBI thought it was wise to conduct his own undercover criminal investigation in California when he lived in New Orleans and owned 10 Verizon franchises? Does it make sense that someone would simultaneously argue the FBI was out to destroy him and that he thought an unauthorized stunt involving an AR-15 would place him back in good graces?

Yet Tran has allies. His younger sister, as well as a supervisory FBI agent and an attorney friend, insist the robbery plan was well-intended. "Even in his final years with the FBI, when Ben Tran was on administrative leave, he still sought to enforce the law," attorney Frederic W. Whitehurst says. "I had many conversations with Ben in which I would tell him that he was no longer a law-enforcement officer and that when he received information concerning illegal activity, he should simply report that information to the appropriate authority rather than attempt his own investigations. He never really got it."

If you can hear somebody laughing in contempt, it's Assistant United States Attorney Robert J. Keenan, who has a history of convicting dirty cops. He prosecuted Tran and Park, and his views aren't cloaked. "The insouciant nihilism exhibited by these defendants make them very dangerous to society," Keenan memorialized in a sentencing memorandum. "By their words and deeds, these defendants have made clear they care only for themselves and recognize no moral limitations on their behavior."

Guilford is giving the veteran prosecutor until June 30 to reply to Tran's appeal.

*     *     *

SERIAL VICTIM
A Newport Beach parolee convicted in 2013 of conning seven victims out of nearly $200,000 while pretending to be a financial wizard for National Basketball Association superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James this month sued the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) and The Orange County Register.

Calvin James Calvin, who is supposed to be serving a 13-year prison term, claims OCSD officials violated his constitutional rights by denying him medical care after he suffered an injury while serving as a trustee at the Theo Lacy Jail.

But most of the hand-scribbled federal lawsuit addresses Calvin's anger at a May 31, 2013, Register article written by Eric Hartley. He claims without explanation that Hartley's work is "racist" and a violation of his civil rights because the reporter—again, unexplained—acted under the color of state authority. His reasoning for his incarceration: "Cover up of Mr. Tony Rackauckas, the head district attorney," who supposedly ate dinner in his office with a man and discussed "aroma M.D. medical deal."

Calvin, who claims he has informed the FBI and Secret Service about his victimization, is demanding $5 million in compensation, a Register retraction printed for 30 consecutive days and an article about Rackauckas' corruption.

"Thank you in advance," he wrote to U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Carla Woehrle, who will decide if the complaint is technically sound and worthy of a future hearing.

Last year, Calvin sued Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg, Senior Deputy District Attorney Cameron Talley and Rackauckas for their roles in his conviction. He claimed they denied him medical care and access to the jail law library and that they are racists. He sought $10 million in damages, but U.S. District Court Judge George H. King dismissed that case as maliciously frivolous last June.

Calvin's most ambitious lawsuit happened in 2010. He sued then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for wrecking his marriage and violating numerous constitutional rights by raiding his homes. He unsuccessfully sought $50 million in compensation.

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12 comments
fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

Tran sounds like the actor who gets caught committing a crime and claims they were just doing "research" for a movie roll...

ltpar
ltpar topcommenter

Moral of the story is "Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time."  Good job by the FBI and better job by the U.S. Attorney in putting these guys where they need to be.  

fishwithoutbicycle
fishwithoutbicycle topcommenter

LOL I meant to say "movie role" not "movie roll"...I suppose the latter would be appropriate if one were applying for stunt work. :-D

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@sweetliberty17761776 to quote your own words that you used with me "we can put more than a finger on your racism".  

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@sweetliberty17761776 @949girl don't be a hypocrite, your statement is far more racial than mine.  You meant the "off the boat" comment to be an insult as if the FBI isn't dumb like people who are off the boat are.  But nice try.  

949girl
949girl topcommenter

@sweetliberty17761776 @949girl I expressed my opinion that I think white men who date Asian women exclusively are weird.  Yes, I jumped to the conclusion that he exclusively dates Asian women based on the 3 mentioned in the article.  Why is that racist?  Please specifically tell me how that is a racist statement.   It's my opinion from people who I personally know that I formed this opinion.   Please explain why that is racist as opposed to me just having my view but it's ok for you to throw around an Asian stereotype of being off the boat and that wouldn't be considered racist, which I don't believe it to be, but it's no different than what I said.  

 
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