For Centreville's Tam Anh Tran, the bad news Friday was that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug conspiracy. The good news was that he wasn't his brother — who was sentenced to life behind bars for murdering two people.
TRAN ALSO received a punishment at the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines, which had a high point of 12 years, seven months. But his willingness to help the prosecution, accept responsibility for his actions and not have a trial, went a long way with U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema.
"This defendant did plead guilty," she said. "He saved the government and the court weeks of time, and he provided the government sufficient information."
On Sept. 4, Tran's brother, Hoang Anh Tran, 29, of Fairfax, appeared in federal court in Alexandria and pleaded guilty to killing two men, in 1997 and 1999, in aid of racketeering. A leader of the Dragon Family street gang, he also pleaded guilty to one count of Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Conspiracy (RICO), including murder, robbery, extortion and narcotics trafficking.
At the same time, Tam Tran, 34 — also an associate of the Dragon Family — pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy. According to U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg, Tam provided the gang with drugs and firearms. Both brothers returned to court last Friday, Nov. 30, for sentencing.
The Centreville man was sentenced first, and U.S. Attorney Kevin Di Gregory pointed out the vast difference between Tam and Hoang. "When we compared the relative roles of Tam and his brother, we recognized the defendant [Tam] has aided the government and continues to do so," said Di Gregory. "And we're committed to the low end of the guidelines."
TAM TRAN then stood and addressed the court. "I'm sorry for everything I did; I didn't mean to harm anybody," he said. "I ask for leniency. I just want to go back to supporting my family."
Saying the government and Tam's attorney James Clark had reached a "reasonable plea bargain," Judge Brinkema sentenced Tam to 121 months — 10 years, one month — in federal prison and said he'd receive credit for the time he's served since being arrested Feb. 22 (nine months).
She also placed him on five years supervised release, provided he's of good behavior and abides by certain other conditions she set. If not, she warned him, "I guarantee you'll do the whole five years in prison."
Once released, said Brinkema, Tam must be drug free and submit to mandatory drug testing and treatment — at his own expense. "There is to be no association with gang members, and you are to maintain full-time employment," she continued. "You must also provide access to your financial records so we can make sure you're earning your money by legal means."
And although the U.S. is currently not deporting people to Vietnam, the judge also told him that — because he's Vietnamese and not a U.S. citizen — he might be eligible for deportation to Vietnam, if the law changes within the next 10 years. Brinkema also ordered Tam to pay a $100 special assessment.
Afterward, Clark said his client's sentence was fair. "We got what we negotiated for, and we believe the government adopted a reasonable and appropriate position," he said. "[Tam] got what he deserved and we can't complain; justice was served."
Clark also said it's his understanding that the brothers' crimes were committed "due to cultural and community influences. They felt bound by ethnicity to protect each other against a perceived, negative, outside environment. And they had shared delusions that illegal and violent acts are, [therefore], justified."