Armenian gang figures convicted of bank fraud, identity theft
Four members and associates of an Armenian organized crime ring have been convicted in a wide-reaching bank fraud and identity theft scheme that authorities called one of the largest in California history, prosecutors said Thursday.
The defendants were indicted in a 2011 sweep of Armenian Power, which authorities said has ties to the Mexican Mafia and high-level organized crime figures in Eastern Europe. A second case that remains pending accuses members of the group of running a racketeering enterprise engaged in kidnapping, extortion and illegal gambling in addition to financial crimes.
The five-week trial that ended this week in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana accused Armenian Power associates of running a scheme in which they obtained personal information that was used to order checks on victims’ bank accounts. Over a six-year-period, the group cheated victims in four states out of millions of dollars, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, the ring was run by Arman Sharopetrosian, who was serving time in Avenal State Prison, using smuggled cellphones. The defendants conspired with bank employees, impersonated victims and intercepted packages containing checks at their homes, prosecutors said.
Part of the scheme involved digital skimming devices and micro cameras secretly installed at bank ATMs to collect debit card information and PINs, according to prosecutors.
Steve Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, said the scheme was part of a "growing trend" of criminal groups broadening their horizons into the realm of white-collar crime to finance their enterprise.
"Whether organized criminal groups traffic in drugs, commit financial fraud or wreak other havoc to keep themselves going, they must be stopped,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement.
U.S. Atty. André Birotte Jr. called the identity theft scheme "a fundamental invasion of consumer privacy."
Sharopetrosian and the other three defendants -- Kristine Ogandzhanian, Artush Margaryan and Keren Markosian -- face a 30-year maximum sentence for each count of bank fraud and 30 years for each count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Margaryan was convicted in a jury trial; the remaining three were tried by the judge.
-- Victoria Kim