Alleged leader of Austin gambling operation faces up to life in prison

Chong Pak (Austin Police Department Photo)
Chong Pak (Austin Police Department Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A three-month long surveillance operation of a 53-year-old man suspected of running an illegal gambling ring in the Austin area culminated in his arrest by SWAT officers in Hutto on Monday.

The Austin Police Department’s Human Trafficking/Vice Unit began their surveillance of Chong Pak in late January 2017 and, after several search warrants at various game rooms and the cooperation of people involved, detectives were able to identify Pak as the alleged owner of the operation.

On Monday, APD and Williamson County SWAT teams searched Pak’s home in the 1200 block of Augusta Bend in Hutto. Detectives say they found several documents linking Pak to illegal gaming operations.

They seized $724,736 in cash, believed to be income from the game rooms, three vehicles worth $94,550 and around $7,500 in gold and silver ingots, similar to gold bars.

Pak has been charged with first-degree felony money laundering and a state jail felony for engaging in organized crime. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Troy Officer, commander of the APD Organized Crime Unit, says there are about 80 illegal game rooms operating in Austin. Just one small game room can make at least $1.2 million a year, he said.

“Anyone who says these game rooms are a victimless crime and people are willingly taking part in this, have no idea what the ultimate pocket is for the illegal activity,” Cmdr. Officer said, estimating the hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash confiscated from Pak’s home is just a drop in the bucket.

The commander says game rooms are a breeding ground for robberies and violent crimes, and he wants to put their operators on notice. “We may not get you today. We may not get you tomorrow, but we will get you, we will put you in jail, and we will come after your money and take what you covet most about doing these operations: your illegal games.”

Cmdr. Officer says the money could be used for anything from financing drugs to terrorism. He says Pak’s game rooms were strictly running 8-liner machines, which are video slot machines.

The police department saying illegal gaming operations are bringing in millions of dollars every month citywide. Cmdr. Officer says they’ve arrested around nine suspects related to Pak’s operation leading up to the arrest of the alleged ringleader himself. Investigators believe he owns six to eight game rooms and leases the machines for many of the other game rooms in the city, located in warehouses, homes or storefronts.

Police still consider this to be an active investigation and, with the help of the Internal Revenue Service, they expect to issue additional search and arrest warrants.

Heather Crawford lives two doors down from Pak’s home in Hutto. “It’s real quiet, everyone kinda keeps to themselves but everyone is real friendly with each other,” Crawford said.

That quiet turned to a bit of chaos Monday morning for her and her family.

“We heard another explosion and it shook the house and we thought, ‘Oh my goodness what’s going on?’ So my husband came outside to the front porch and he saw the police, he saw guns drawn. It was scary.” Crawford said.

When the family found out hours later what the raid was for, Crawford’s gut feeling kicked in.

“We’ve always kind of been suspicious of maybe illegal activities going on in the house,” she said. “There were always a lot of cars parked in the area and a lot of cars coming and going.”

Money seized from several illegal gambling operations throughout the Austin area. Chong Pak, 53, has been arrested as the primary suspect. (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)
Money seized from several illegal gambling operations throughout the Austin area. Chong Pak, 53, has been arrested as the primary suspect. (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)

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