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Press Release

Armenian Power Leader Sentenced To 32 Years In Federal Prison For Racketeering, Extortion And Sophisticated Fraud Schemes

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

LOS ANGELES – A leader of the Armenian Power gang, who was convicted at trial of 57 counts for his role in a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion, bank fraud, and a sophisticated credit and debit card skimming scheme, was sentenced this afternoon to 32 years in prison.

Mher Darbinyan, 39, of Valencia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, who described the defendant’s string of crimes as “heinous.”

Darbinyan – who was also known as “Hollywood Mike” and “Capone” – was a leader of Armenian Power, a gang responsible for extortion, firearms offenses, fraud and identity theft throughout the Los Angeles area. Among other offenses, Darbinyan operated a sophisticated bank fraud scheme that used middlemen and runners to deposit and cash hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks drawn on the accounts of elderly bank customers and businesses.

Darbinyan also organized and operated a sophisticated debit card skimming operation targeting customers of 99 Cents Only Stores across Southern California. This expansive scheme involved the installation and use of skimmers to steal thousands of customers’ debit card numbers and PIN codes. 

Evidence presented during a trial earlier this year also showed that Darbinyan conspired to extort money from a member of the Armenian community by threatening violence against the victim and his family members. Additionally, on two separate occasions, Darbinyan possessed firearms and ammunition after having previously been convicted of felony grand theft for his role in a 2004 debit card fraud scheme.

“No community is safe from defendant -- not the members of his own Armenian-American community and not the members of the multiple communities throughout Southern California that he has victimized through his widespread fraud schemes,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court that recommended the 32-year sentence.

Darbinyan was among 90 individuals charged in 2011 in two indictments targeting Armenian Power. To date, 87 individuals have been convicted (two defendants are fugitives, and prosecutors dismissed charges against one defendant). According to evidence presented during the Armenian Power trials, the street gang – which is believed to have more than 250 documented members and hundreds of associates – is responsible for violent criminal acts, including murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, robberies, extortions and witness intimidation.

The Armenian Power cases were investigated by the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, which is comprised of the FBI, the Glendale Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Burbank Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and the U.S. Secret Service. The Huntington Beach Police Department and Beverly Hills Police Department provided assistance.

The cases are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office and the Organized Crime and Gang Section in the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice.

Release No. 14-148

Updated June 22, 2015