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It was a sweltering summer day in 1990 and more than 100 Asian gang members and their families were gathered at the Rosedale Memorial Park Cemetery in Linden, N.J to bury 21-year-old Vinh Vu, the No. 2 leader of the violent Born to Kill Gang (BTK).
Suddenly, three men approached wearing long coats covering the automatic weapons they were carrying. These men then did the unthinkable: they opened fire on the mourners and pandemonium broke loose. Frightened people ran in all direction, including the gang’s leader David Thai and 19-year old Vietnamese refugee Tinh Ngo, called Timmy by his cohorts. Over 100 rounds were fired into the crowd. Five mourners were wounded, but, shockingly, no one was killed.
Tinh, like most of the typically teenage gang members, had no family in America and he gravitated to the mostly-Vietnamese BTK gang for the same reason the other gang members did: he wanted a sense of family in a foreign land – people he could trust and converse with in his native language. Tinh never realized he would be drawn into a viper’s nest, where the 34-year old Thai would order his underlings to perform violent crimes (shakedowns, robberies and even murders) against other Asian immigrants – people who traditionally never reported crimes to the police.
Tinh did his first dirty deed when he participated in the holdup of a Chinese brothel in Chinatown. While Tinh didn’t enjoy the caper, it still gave him a sense of exhilaration, knowing that he now was “one of the gang.” As he committed robbery after robbery, Tinh gradually began to question whether this violent life was meant for him.
David Thai sent his underlings all over America to perform their mayhem. In late 1990, Thai directed a group of BTKs, including Tinh, to Doraville, Ga. to rob a Chinese curio shop owned by Odum Lin. Lin, not impressed with gangsters who barely shaved, resisted and was shot in the side of the head.
Miraculously, Lin survived but Tinh did not know the owner was still alive; he thought he was an accessary to murder. This senseless shooting sent Tinh over the top, and when he was arrested on a minor charge soon after, he was met by a group of investigators, both Federal and New York City law enforcement officers, who were trying to build a case against the Born to Kill Gang, and it’s leader David Thai specifically.
Tired of the gang life, Tinh easily flipped, and under the guidance of New York City Detective Bill Oldham, Special ATF Agent Dan Kumor, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad, he began wearing a wire during his meetings with Thai and other top BTK gang members.
In Born to Kill, T.J. English, a former New York City taxi driver and the author of another fine book – The Westies, gives us a vivid account of Tinh’s confidential activities which decimated the Born to Kill Gang. Tinh’s inside information was so accurate; Kumor and Oldham were even able to thwart several BTK robberies before they were able to occur.
At first, Tinh was terrified of wearing a wire. On one occasion, while Tinh sat in the living room of a safe house watching television with several other BTKs, another gang member noticed a red glow inside Tinh’s shirt. The glow was the battery light on his tape recorder which was taped to his chest.
Thinking he was now a dead man, Tinh rushed to the bathroom, removed the recorder, and then slinked back to the living room to await his fate. Amazingly, the other gang member were glued to the television set and barely noticed Tinh had left the room and returned. Tinh mumbled something about a bad beeper to the gang member who had noticed the red light; the gang member bought Tinh’s explanation, and Tinh was safe – for now.
After Thai tried to engage his gang in a robbery in concert with Italian mobsters from New Jersey, which was again prevented by Tinh’s inside knowledge of the impending event, Oldham, Kumor and Vinegrad decided it was too dangerous for Tinh to stay undercover. They pulled Tinh off the streets and began the prosecution of Thai and other top BTK operatives. This resulted in Thai being sentenced to life behind bars with no chance of parole.
write by Briston Blair