BIG CASH SEIZURE IGNITES ARGUMENTS

Published September 24, 1996 by Rebecca Taylor, Bee Staff Writer

Police went to the apartment at 620 Paradise Road for a routine probation search in June.

What they found was $160,000 in cash, and evidence of an alleged Southeast Asian gambling ring.

Now the apartment tenant, Samouen So, 53, is facing criminal charges in Stanislaus County Municipal Court -- accused of gambling and failing to file income tax returns.

If convicted, he faces upward of five years in prison.

He also could lose the money police confiscated from his home.

The Stanislaus County district attorney's office recently filed suit against So, seeking to keep the money in accordance with an organized crime profiteering law.

The law stipulates that profits acquired through organized criminal activities may be seized to punish the criminals and deter future acts.

Defense attorney Robert Forkner alleges that his client is being unfairly targeted. He is seeking to keep the government from seizing the $160,000,

In addition to So, Forkner represents four other people who have claimed ownership of a portion of the recovered money -- all in $100 bills -- from So's bedroom.

"The government is not the least bit concerned with allegations of gambling; all they want is my clients' money," Fork-ner said.

A preliminary hearing on the criminal charges is scheduled Thursday in Municipal Court to determine if there is sufficient cause to hold So to answer in Superior Court.

Meanwhile, a judge is expected to decide Oct. 10 whether the civil case to seize So's money should be incorporated into the criminal proceedings.

So allegedly was running a lottery game and a dice game called pan from the apartment. Forkner suggested that it was a small-time activity that does not constitute organized crime.

"This is the first criminal racketeering and profiteering (case) in Stanislaus County, which is basically like saying he's in organized crime," Forkner said.

Prosecutor John Goulart concurred, saying he is unaware of any other criminal profiteering case in the county. He noted that the separate filing is consistent with civil cases filed against criminal drug defendants under health and safety laws.\

Although the term "organized crime" may inspire thoughts of big-time mob activities, the criminal profiteering legislation also applies to activities on a smaller scale, according to Phillip Urie, a San Joaquin County prosecutor and a member of the California District Attorneys' Association Asset-Forfeiture Committee.

"We tend to think of it as sort of Mafia, but the requirements of the law are made out carefully," Urie explained, noting that the legislative intent was to seize funds from any organized crime activity, regardless of its size.