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Two charged in international prostitution ring, another sought

June 19, 2012 | 12:28 pm

 

A Los Angeles man and his wife were being held without bail Tuesday on federal charges that they recruited Eastern European women to work as prostitutes in Los Angeles. 

Mher “Mike” Hakopyan, 38, and his wife, Natalya Muravyeva, 31, are accused of conspiracy to transport for prostitution, said officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hakopyan’s ex-wife, Alla Kassianova, 43, faces the same criminal charge but is believed to be out of the country.

Hakopyan and Muravyeva were arrested Monday by ICE agents and detectives from the Santa Monica Police Department after a 10-month probe, investigators say. Both were ordered held without bail after their initial appearance in federal court.

If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The pair used recruiters in Eastern Europe to locate women interested in working as prostitutes, according to the affidavit. They then bought plane tickets for the women and coached them on how to enter the United States, it said.

Once the women arrived in Los Angeles, Hakopyan, Muravyeva and Kassianova arranged housing for them and had them photographed, according to prosecutors. The photos then would be posted on websites.

The case affidavit references 14 women investigators say the defendants brought or attempted to bring to the United States. 

“Criminal ventures like this degrade the quality of life in our neighborhoods, as well as the women involved,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. “HSI will continue to work closely with federal prosecutors and our law enforcement partners to attack and dismantle these types of enterprises that prey on the vulnerable and often bring other criminal activity into our area.”

Officials say the probe began in September 2011 after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers intercepted two Latvian women at Los Angeles International Airport. The women’s stories were inconsistent, authorities said, and officials later discovered their travel reservations had been made by Hakopyan.

Investigators say they are still seeking Hakopyan’s ex-wife, Kassianova.

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-- Matt Stevens

Twitter.com/mattstevenslat

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