Four members and associates of the Armenian Power gang and four other individuals pleaded guilty late yesterday to charges relating to the activities of the Armenian Power criminal enterprise, including racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, drug-trafficking and illegal possession of firearms.
The guilty pleas were announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. of the Central District of California and Assistant Director in Charge Bill L. Lewis of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The following defendants pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson in the Central District of California:
• Karo Yerkanyan, aka “Guilty,” 32, of Tujunga, Calif., pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and felon-in-possession of a firearm;
• Arman Tangabekyan, aka “Spito” and “Thick Neck,” 34, of Encino, Calif., pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft;
• Artur Pembejian, aka “Cham,” 36, of Burbank, Calif., pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy;
• Raymond Tarverdyan, aka “Rye,” 35, of Montrose, Calif., pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and bank fraud;
• Simon Antonyan, aka “Simo,” 38, of Hollywood, Calif., pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft;
• Khachatur Arakelyan, aka “Khecho,” 39, of Glendale, Calif., pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft;
• Vartenie Ananian, 29, of Tujunga, pleaded guilty to bank fraud; and
• Adam Davoodian, 32, of Glendale, Calif., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
The defendants who pleaded guilty yesterday were among 70 individuals charged in a 140-count indictment in July 2011 for criminal activities associated with the Armenian Power gang. The indictment accused 29 defendants, including four of those who pleaded guilty yesterday, of participation in the Armenian Power RICO conspiracy. The RICO conspiracy charge alleges a host of illegal activities, many of which involved sophisticated fraudulent schemes of identity theft, bank fraud, credit card skimming, manufacturing counterfeit checks and laundering criminal proceeds, often electronically. In addition, defendants were involved in a variety of violent crimes, such as extortion, kidnapping and firearms offenses. Among the schemes charged in the racketeering indictment is a bank fraud and identity theft scheme that victimized hundreds of customers of 99 Cents Only Stores throughout Southern California. Through the scheme, defendants caused more than $2 million in losses when they secretly installed sophisticated “skimming” devices to steal customer debit card account information at cash registers, and then used the skimmed information to create counterfeit debit cards to steal money from victims’ bank accounts.
The eight defendants who pleaded guilty yesterday played various roles in the activities of the Armenian Power gang, including participating in bank fraud, drug distribution, access device fraud, identity theft and illegal firearm possession.
Yerkanyan, a member of the Armenian Power conspiracy, participated in a bank fraud scheme that obtained the personal identifying information and account information of victims. He and his co-conspirators used the information to open fraudulent bank accounts, loans and lines of credit at HSBC Bank and Bank of America without the knowledge of the victims. Tangabekyan, a member of the Armenian Power conspiracy, participated in a bank fraud scheme by obtaining personal information and account information for victims and then obtaining or transferring over $475,000 in funds.
Yerkanyan also participated, along with Davoodian, in a scheme to steal approximately 207 pounds of marijuana, worth approximately $450,000, from another drug distributor.
Pembejian, a member of the Armenian Power conspiracy, abetted the illegal possession of a firearm by a leader of the Armenian Power gang, Mher Darbinyan.
Tarverdyan, an Armenian Power member, and Antonyan, Arakelyan and Ananian participated in the scheme to install secret “skimming” devices at the 99 Cents Only Stores in order to obtain victims’ account information.
According to court documents, the Armenian Power street gang formed in the East Hollywood district of Los Angeles in the 1980s. The gang’s membership consisted primarily of individuals of Armenian descent, as well as of other countries within the former Soviet bloc. The Armenian Power has been designated under California state law as a criminal street gang and is believed to have over 250 documented members, as well as hundreds of associates. According to court documents, Armenian Power members and associates regularly carry out violent criminal acts, including murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, robberies, extortions, and witness intimidation in order to enrich its members and associates and preserve and enhance the power of the criminal enterprise.
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced beginning on Nov. 25, 2013. Yerkanyan faces a maximum penalty of 102 years in prison. Tangabekyan faces a maximum penalty of 52 years in prison. Tarverdyan faces a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison. Ananian faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Pembejian and Davoodian each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. And Antonyan and Arakelyan each face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
Fifty-one defendants have previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the activities of the Armenian Power gang.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Martin Estrada, Elizabeth Yang and Stephen Wolfe of the Central District of California and Trial Attorney Andrew Creighton of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section. The case was investigated by the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, which is comprised of the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Glendale Police Department, the Burbank Police Department, the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations.