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Originally published October 5, 2011 at 8:55 PM | Page modified October 6, 2011 at 7:49 AM

Upcoming murder trial opens a window on Seattle-area street gang

The accused leader of Young Seattle Boyz, a Vietnamese street gang, is preparing to stand trial in King County Superior Court next week on a number of charges, including leading an organized-crime group and first-degree murder. One co-defendant entered a plea agreement with prosecutors on Tuesday and will now testify against Quy Nguyen and an alleged hit man, Jerry Henry Thomas III, who is accused of fatally shooting Hoang Nguyen in January 2007.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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He was known as The Godfather, The Boss and The Old Man.

Quy Nguyen's aliases, which are documented in federal court papers, reflect the power and wealth he possessed as the accused leader of Young Seattle Boyz, a street gang whose members allegedly grew and sold large quantities of marijuana and operated illegal slot machines in Vietnamese cafes and restaurants in Seattle's Rainier Valley.

When a rift between gang members threatened Quy Nguyen's lucrative businesses and his status as leader, he ordered a hit on Hoang Nguyen, a member of Young Seattle Boyz who was killed in January 2007, according to charging documents filed in King County Superior Court.

Quy Nguyen was arrested along with alleged gang member Le Nhu Le on federal drug charges in March 2009. Seven months later, Quy Nguyen, Le and Jerry Henry Thomas III — the accused hit man hired to kill Hoang Nguyen — were charged in Superior Court with a number of crimes, including first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

In summer 2010, additional charges were filed against the men. Among them, Quy Nguyen was charged with leading an organized-crime group and all three defendants were charged in connection with alleged drug and gambling conspiracies.

Quy Nguyen and Thomas have denied all of the allegations against them.

On Tuesday, Le pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit leading organized crime in the state case and on Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana in federal court. As part of the plea deal, the remaining charges are to be dismissed and Le is to testify against Nguyen and Thomas during both the Superior Court and federal trials. In exchange, prosecutors will recommend he serve a total of five years in prison.

Opening statements in the Superior Court trial of Quy Nguyen and Thomas are expected next week.

The complex case provides a rare window into the inner workings of a Seattle-area street gang that prosecutors say made hundreds of thousands of dollars through marijuana sales and illegal gambling.

Quy Nguyen, who turns 44 on Monday, first came to the FBI's attention in May 2000, when agents began investigating the Young Seattle Boyz's drug-trafficking activities, according to court records.

At the time, he was allegedly importing large quantities of "B.C. bud" from Canada and selling the marijuana, along with crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Between June and December 2000, an FBI confidential informant purchased two pounds of pot, nearly two pounds of cocaine and 43 grams of crack from Quy Nguyen and his roommate, who was also a member of the gang, the records say.

Agents searched their house and seized 30 pounds of marijuana, drug-packaging equipment, cash, ammunition and an assortment of weapons, court records say. Though Quy Nguyen and his roommate were arrested, no charges were ever filed, but court documents don't explain why.

Between 2002 and 2005, Quy Nguyen continued importing marijuana from Canada and later began purchasing the drug from local growers, charging papers say.

In late 2005 or early 2006, he began to grow his own marijuana in Seattle-area "grow houses," recruiting "straw buyers" from the city's Vietnamese community to purchase five houses in South Seattle and Tukwila, charging papers say. He allegedly paid other people — including his co-defendant Le and slaying victim Hoang Nguyen — to tend, harvest and ready the marijuana for distribution, the papers say.

Though Quy Nguyen did not have a bank account in his own name, a former girlfriend deposited and withdrew approximately $1 million from her accounts between December 2003 and late 2008, the papers say.

Charging papers say Quy Nguyen and his associates were also involved in gambling, taking bets on football and basketball games and operating illegal slot machines that were placed in Vietnamese restaurants and cafes in Rainier Valley. One witness allegedly told investigators that each machine "brought in between $10,000 and $15,000" a month.

Fissures in the gang began to appear during 2006. That July, Quy Nguyen's younger brother, Diem Nguyen, shot and wounded Nam Hoang, also a member of Young Seattle Boyz, and Hoang's girlfriend, charging papers say. Both survived and Diem Nguyen, now 32, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

According to Quy Nguyen's girlfriend, he was concerned that Nam Hoang and Hoang's brother "were no longer respecting his authority as leader of the gang, and that they were looking to take over the criminal enterprise," charging papers say. The shooting allegedly caused "some of Quy Nguyen's former associates to turn against him."

In retaliation for the shooting, Hoang Nguyen — who once worked as a hit man and drug distributor for the gang — was involved in the theft of Quy Nguyen's slot machines from the Rain City Cafe. In September 2006, Thomas was hired by Quy Nguyen and Le and allegedly pistol-whipped a cafe employee who was a close associate of Hoang Nguyen, according to charging papers.

The following month, Hoang Nguyen had his wife call police to a phony domestic-violence disturbance so that officers would find one of Quy Nguyen's marijuana grow operations in a house on South Morgan Street, charging papers say.

After police dismantled the grow house, Hoang Nguyen "openly bragged" to Young Seattle Boyz members and other people in the community that he was responsible for tipping off the cops, the papers say. He was also seen speaking to a prosecutor and offering to testify at Diem Nguyen's assault-with-a-deadly-weapon trial, though he never took the stand.

Diem Nguyen was convicted Dec. 21, 2006. Later that night, Hoang Nguyen was with a group of people who celebrated the conviction at a South Seattle nightclub, the papers say. A man walked into the club, pointed a gun at Hoang Nguyen and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed and the man fled, charging papers say.

Prosecutors say the would-be gunman was Thomas, a co-worker of Le's who was offered $5,300 and marijuana to kill Hoang Nguyen, the papers say. Le, now 43, allegedly provided Thomas, now 25, with a 9-mm handgun, charging papers say.

Around 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2007, Hoang Nguyen and his wife returned to their Tukwila apartment complex and were approached by Thomas, who motioned to Hoang Nguyen's wife to keep quiet, the papers say. The gunman ordered Hoang Nguyen, 36, to place the coffee cup he had in his hand on the ground and as he did, he was shot once in the back of the head, the papers say.

After Hoang Nguyen's death, the marijuana grow operation continued for a full year until federal agents and Seattle police dismantled it on the morning of Jan. 9, 2008, seizing more than 1,500 plants from three houses in Seattle and Tukwila, according to charging papers.

Quy Nguyen and Le were arrested on federal drug charges two months later. Thomas was arrested in October 2009. Quy Nguyen is still facing federal charges for marijuana manufacturing and money laundering, with a trial set for February, according to court documents. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg, who is prosecuting the federal case against Quy Nguyen, has been deputized as a special prosecutor in King County Superior Court and is participating in the upcoming murder trial.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed

to this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654

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