Friends and relatives of Little Saigon’s Benjamin Lam Tran describe the 32-year-old Vietnamese immigrant as kind, religious, hardworking and a terrific, loving father of two small sons.
But Tran—a.k.a. Bennie Tran as well as Lam Cao Tran—stole Chase Bank and Bank of America credit cards from unwitting victims to shop for himself at high end retail stores in Beverly Hills, Costa Mesa and Las Vegas.
From February to June in 2018, surveillance footage proved he created nearly $160,000 in losses with illegal purchases inside Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
Neither U.S. Postal inspectors, who worked on the investigation, nor Southern California federal prosecutors were amused.
“This was not a crime of opportunity,” Los Angeles-based Assistant United States Attorney David H. Chao reported. “Over the course of several months, the defendant stole credit cards of at least five individuals and impersonated them to make unauthorized purchases at luxury retail locations throughout California. These actions reflect a calculated and sustained effort to defraud the affected banks and counsel in favor of a custodial sentence.”
Chao argued for 15 months of incarceration, which would have been a low-end of sentencing guidelines because the defendant pleaded guilty before a scheduled jury trial.
Tran, a resident of Garden Grove, hoped for a punishment of probation and no time in prison so that he could care for his wife and kids.
But U.S. District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder decided the correct sentence is one year in custody and then supervised probation for five years upon release plus compliance with a full restitution order to the banks.
Snyder gave Tran until noon on June 10 to self-surrender to the U.S. Marshal inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.