Sacramento Man Found Guilty in Scheme to Defraud American Express and Account Holders Nationwide
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After a four-day trial, a jury found Mihran Melkonyan, 36, of Sacramento, guilty on Tuesday of 24 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud related to a scheme to commit credit card fraud by operating phony online businesses, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
Co-defendant Ruslan Kirilyuk, 39, of Beverly Hills, failed to appear at trial, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. The charges against him are only allegations; he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. On December 15, 2014, co‑defendant Rouslan Akhmerov, 42, of Studio City, pleaded guilty to one count of access device fraud for his participation in the scheme. He is set to be sentenced on March 21, 2017.
According to evidence presented at trial, between approximately October 5, 2011, and March 5, 2014, Melkonyan worked with Akhmerov and others in a credit card billing scheme that involved creating approximately 68 fraudulent online companies established with the sole purpose of fraudulently charging approximately 119,000 stolen credit card numbers. In total, the members of the scheme billed the stolen credit card numbers for over $3.4 million in unauthorized charges.
As established at trial, to create the fraudulent companies, the members of the scheme obtained over 200 stolen report cards from the San Juan Unified School District. Those report cards had student information on them such as names and social security numbers. Using that information, Melkonyan and others created fraudulent companies with names such as CVS Store, Walt Mart (sic), and Chevran (sic).
Melkonyan and others then opened merchant accounts with American Express using those names and false identities. Working with co-conspirators in Russia, Melkonyan and others used those merchant accounts to process American Express credit card charges for the fraudulent businesses.
Once American Express credited the businesses’ merchant accounts for the fake sales, Melkonyan and others transferred the money from the merchant accounts to bank accounts they controlled that had been opened in other people’s identities. In some cases, Melkonyan directed foreign students visiting the United States on J-1 student visas to open bank accounts. When the students left the United States, Melkonyan took over the bank accounts to use for collecting fraud proceeds.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael D. Anderson and Matthew M. Yelovich are prosecuting the case.
Melkonyan is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on May 5, 2017. Melkonyan faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.