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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Marijuana

Businessman was leader of drug ring

Bars, restaurants called money-laundering fronts

Several Spokane businesses were fronts for a multimillion-dollar marijuana distribution ring busted after a four-year investigation that involved tens of thousands of taped phone calls and a car crash that revealed a $130,000 cash stash, new documents allege.

The operation crumbled last February after federal agents raided homes in Seattle and Spokane, arresting more than 20 people. Of the 30 people charged, 18 have pleaded guilty in the past week, many accepting plea deals in exchange for cooperation in federal trials this summer.

At the center of the case is Luyen V. “John” Doan, who’s been in Spokane County Jail since February. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal drug and investment charges and will give up more than 15 properties in Stevens, Spokane and Kootenai counties, including a home on Diamond Lake, a boat and a 2007 Mercedes-Benz, according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors say Doan, 43, headed a drug operation that distributed thousands of pounds of marijuana throughout Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

As his wealth accumulated, documents allege, Doan removed himself from the drug ring, employing dealers through businesses he owned or invested in, such as Lefty’s Steakhouse and Sports on North Division, the Teriyaki House on East Sprague, and Trick Shot Dixie Outlaw Saloon and BBQ on West Sprague.

One of those employees, David P. Dang, is expected to testify as part of a plea agreement approved Thursday in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

Dang, 27, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. He might qualify for less than the minimum sentence if he continues cooperating, according to the plea agreement. Otherwise, the U.S. attorney’s office will recommend a 60-month prison sentence.

Dang worked in the VIP room at Trick Shot Dixie’s at 315 W. Sprague Ave., “which was often used for the consumption of controlled substances,” according to a plea agreement filed Thursday.

Doan was listed as an employee at Lefty’s, earning $40 an hour in 2007, according to documents. Thuc C. Le is another investor in Lefty’s, according to the documents.

Le is one of four men still at large, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Authorities believe Doan and Le worked together before breaking into separate groups that distributed pounds of marijuana to lower-level dealers.

Tips from arrested drug dealers led DEA agents to Doan, Le and Jonathan Tri Duc Nguyen in late 2004. By spring 2008, federal agents were monitoring the group’s phone calls. Charges were filed last February.

Nguyen, Doan’s cousin, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to distribute 1,000 or more kilograms of marijuana and investment of illicit drug profits. He is expected to testify this summer.

He was arrested in Seattle and will give up a waterfront home he owned there, according to the agreement. The agreement calls for the U.S attorney’s office to recommend a 10-year prison sentence if Nguyen does not provide “substantial assistance.”

Nguyen is thought to have supplied marijuana to two men involved in a single-vehicle crash on westbound Interstate 90 near the Spokane County line in February 2007. State troopers found $130,000 in cash in a paper bag near the crash site.

The men, Trong V. Nguyen and Somxay Phimmasanh, were arrested four months later in Montana after they sold marijuana to a federal agent in a setup arranged by another defendant, Travis Lyman.

Other tips came from a confidential informant arrested with 400 marijuana plants in Seattle. The informant told police he was in a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Worchester, Mass., when a man offered to move him to Seattle and pay him $3,000 a month to grow marijuana.

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