The older sister of a Denver teen charged with setting a house on fire and killing the five people inside was sentenced Friday in federal court to more than 10 years in prison for federal drug and weapons crimes.
Chief Judge of the U.S District Court of Colorado Philip Brimmer sentenced Tanya Bui to 130 months in prison, noting that he gave her some leniency because she was 22 years old at the time of the crime. Bui in February pleaded guilty to possessing a gun in furtherance of drug trafficking and to possessing fentanyl with intent to distribute the drug.
Tanya Bui enlisted her younger brother, Kevin Bui, to sell drugs and guns to other students at his high school, attorneys said during the sentencing hearing. In one two-month period, the younger Bui made at least 30 drug deals on his sister’s behalf, federal prosecutor Celeste Rangel said.
Tanya Bui apologized for her crimes during the hearing.
“Being surrounded by the wrong people at the wrong time brought me down a path I didn’t want to go down,” she said.
Investigators discovered Tanya Bui’s drug network while investigating the Aug. 5, 2020, house fire in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood that killed five members of a family. Kevin Bui decided to set fire to the house because he thought someone who robbed him of his phone during a gun sale lived there, police have said. Kevin Bui and two other teens face murder charges in connection to the blaze.
Investigators served a search warrant on the Bui’s parents’ home and found fentanyl in Tanya Bui’s nightstand as well as a gun and large amounts of marijuana in her closet, Rangel said during sentencing.
There is no evidence that Bui’s parents were engaged in illegal activity, Brimmer said.
Tanya Bui moved with her parents to the U.S. from Vietnam when she was 3 years old, her defense attorney Harvey Steinberg said. She was a straight-A student through high school and wanted to assimilate into U.S. culture and find acceptance, he said. She tried to do so through selling drugs, he said.
Brimmer said that may be true, but many people in similar situations do not turn to crime to find legitimacy. Her parents were successful business owners and their children did not want for anything materially, he said.
“She’s a highly intelligent person and unfortunately she used that intelligence to operate a successful drug network,” Brimmer said.
Brimmer approved Bui’s request to be imprisoned near San Francisco, where some of her family resides.
As a U.S. marshal fumbled with handcuffs at the end of the hearing, Bui turned to a row of friends seated in the back of the courtroom.
“I love you guys,” she said.
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