United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
MEMBERS OF CALIFORNIA-BASED CRIME RING CONVICTED OF BANK FRAUD
Conspirators Bribed DOL Employee and Used Check Kiting Scheme to Purchase Massive Quantities of Cigarettes
Two members of a criminal conspiracy involving check kiting and cigarette trafficking were convicted late yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle following a seven-day jury trial. The men were indicted last fall as part of a scheme that defrauded banks of more than $1,000,000. The conspiracy utilized a Washington State Department of Licensing employee who provided fraudulent identification documents for the conspirators. AKOP DANIYELYAN, 23, of Los Angeles, California, was convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud, and one count of Bank Fraud. GRAYR POGOSOVICH YERIKYAN, 50, of Glendale, California, was convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud, one count of Bank Fraud, and Conspiracy to Commit Unlawful Production of Identification Documents. The jury deliberated about four hours before returning the guilty verdicts. The men face up to 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine when they are sentenced by U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly on September 29, 2011.
According to records in the case and testimony at trial, in 2008 and 2009, YERIKYAN obtained three Washington State Identification cards in bogus names, and used the identities to open multiple bank accounts, including in Bellevue, Washington. At least two more times, YERIKYAN helped other members of the conspiracy to open business bank accounts in Las Vegas, Nevada, in the names of businesses, such as a construction company and a beauty supply store, that existed only on paper. After the balances in the business accounts were inflated with fraudulent deposits using checks written off accounts with insufficient funds, YERIKYAN quickly used the debit card and fake identity to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of cigarettes at Sam’s Clubs stores in California.
Similarly, DANIYELYAN opened multiple bank accounts in the name of a bogus catering business in the Seattle area. The balances in the accounts were inflated with worthless checks, and the money was quickly withdrawn in the form of cigarette purchases at Sam’s Club stores. On several other occasions, DANIYELYAN himself purchased cigarettes using funds that were being funneled through other business accounts, such as accounts for a flower store, a landscaping business, and a credit service. None of these businesses were real. The cigarettes were then taken to a store in Hollywood, California, where they were sold for cash at a discounted price.
Earlier this week a third conspirator was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in the scheme. Artur Arakelyan, 23, of North Hollywood, California, pleaded guilty in April 2011, admitting that in February 2010, he flew to Dallas, Texas, and made stops at multiple bank branches depositing bogus checks to inflate account balances, including a $74,000 check deposited into one of the catering business accounts DANIYELYAN had opened only five days before. All in all, Arakelyan and a partner who traveled with him to Dallas, Texas, drove to nine different branches of Bank of America in the course of a single morning of check depositing. At the time Arakelyan flew to Dallas, he was taking time off from his employment as an Assistant Branch Manager for Citibank. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Zilly emphasized that in light of Arakelyan’s experience, he surely knew his activities were part of a larger bank fraud scheme, even before he began depositing checks.
In addition to Arakelyan, eight other defendants have pleaded guilty to various counts of bank fraud or conspiracy to commit bank fraud.:
Artur Manasaryan, 24, Los Angeles, California
Arman Sultanyan, 37, Glendale, California
Sarkis Dishchyan, a/k/a “Saqo”, 32, Pasadena, CA
Sarkis Yesayan, 22, North Hollywood, CA
Ashot Khachatryan, 50, Van Nuys, CA
Susan Vardanyan, 31, North Hollywood, CA
Gevorg Martirosyan, a/k/a “Gevo”, 22, North Hollywood, CA
Vitali Hovhannisyan, a/k/a “Viko”, 24, Van Nuys, CA
The former Department of Licensing Employee who issued the identification cards in false names, Melinda Johnson, has pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Unlawful Production of Identification Documents.
Three defendants, including the two apparent leaders of the scheme, Khachatur Dishchyan, a/k/a “Xcho” a/k/a “Kris”, and Akop Gyulasaryan a/k/a “Jack”, remain fugitives. Dishchyan devised the scheme, relying in part on insider knowledge of Bank of America’s operating system, and directed the various conspirators to open bank accounts, inflate the balances with check deposits, and purchase the cigarettes as rapidly as possible. Gyulasaryan was Dishchyan’s close friend and partner.
Photos of some of the defendants being sought by law enforcement are available from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The lead investigative agencies on the case are the U.S. Secret Service, the King County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). Assistance has also been provided by the Washington Department of Licensing, Special Investigations Division; and by the FBI.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Scoville and Kate Vaughan.