WICHITA, KAN. – Three persons from North Hollywood, Calif., have been arrested in an alleged scheme in which semi-trailer loads of goods were stolen from companies in California and an attempt to steal a load of processed beef was made in southwest Kansas, U. S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Wednesday.
Two of the three persons, Oganes Nagapetian, 53, and his wife, Larisa Nagapetian, 46, are scheduled to be arraigned on a federal indictment in the U.S. District Court in Wichita on June 4; the third defendant, Tigran Nagapetian, 50, a brother of Oganes Nagapetian, appeared Tuesday before a U.S. magistrate judge in Los Angeles. He also is scheduled to appear for arraignment in Kansas on June 4. All three are charged in the Kansas federal indictment, Grissom said.
“The defendants are alleged to have engaged in a scheme to steal semi-loads of cargo by pretending to be legitimate freight haulers,” Grissom said. “They are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The USDA Office of Inspector General and the FBI, together with their state and local law enforcement partners, are aggressively investigating these cases.”
Grissom said such schemes have become more common across the country in the past few years, and that the large meat packing plants in Kansas – including Dodge City, Liberal, Holcolm and Garden City -- have been targeted on several occasions. A total of seven large plants load dozens of semi-loads per day of packaged meat, which is a commodity that is valuable and relatively easy to sell, he said. A semi-trailer-load of processed beef can be worth $100,000 wholesale, Grissom said. Meat packing plants in Nebraska also have been victimized, he said.
The indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury in Wichita April 23, alleges that the defendants conspired in November 2011 to steal a load of beef from the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Holcomb, Kan., and the brothers dropped off a trailer to be loaded, but never came back to pick it up because they thought they were under law enforcement surveillance. In the weeks before the attempted Holcomb theft, loads of shoes, fans and almonds were stolen from three companies in California, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that the three conspired to use the identity of a legitimate trucking company in Pennsylvania to bid on hauling the load of Kansas beef to California through a freight broker based in Ohio. Once the hauling contract was awarded, a man allegedly fitting the description of Oganes Nagapetian but using a counterfeit California commercial drivers license in another person’s name dropped off a trailer at the Tyson plant in Holcomb to be loaded. The man never returned, according to the indictment.
The indictment charges all three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to steal shipments of freight, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Oganes Nagapetian and Tigran Nagapetian also are charged with wire fraud, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and aggravated identity theft, which has a statutorily-required sentence of two years in prison. In addition, Oganes Nagapetian, a lawful permanent resident from Russia, faces various document fraud charges. Tigran Nagapetian is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Armenia, as is Larisa Nagapetian.
In addition to the USDA OIG and FBI, agencies working on the investigation include Homeland Security Investigations; the Kansas Highway Patrol; the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. and its “Cargo Cats” unit; the Finney County, Kan., Sheriff’s Dept.; the California Highway Patrol Cargo Theft Interdiction Program; the National White Collar Crime Center; and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson.
If convicted of the conspiracy count, the defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Wire fraud carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000. Document fraud has a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and aggravated identity theft has a mandatory sentence of two years in prison. As in any criminal case, a defendant is innocent unless proven guilty; an indictment merely alleges criminal conduct.