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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ringleader Pleads Guilty To Million Dollar Bank Fraud Conducted In California And Nevada Casinos

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced today that Ara Keshishyan pleaded guilty to leading and organizing a 14-defendant conspiracy to steal more than $1 million from Citibank using cash advance kiosks in a dozen casinos from Southern California to Las Vegas.

Keshishyan presided over a conspiracy to exploit a gap in Citibank’s electronic transaction security protocols in order to overdraw more than 20 Citibank accounts by tens of thousands of dollars each. The scheme worked as follows: Keshishyan recruited conspirators to open Citibank checking accounts that Keshishyan would fund with “seed” money that would form the basis for future fraudulent withdrawals. Keshishyan and his various conspirators then traveled to casinos in Southern California and Nevada, including the Morongo, Pechanga, San Manuel, Agua Caliente, Chukchansi, and Spa Resort casinos in California; the Tropicana, Wynn, Bicycle, and Whiskey Pete’s casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada; and Harrah’s in Laughlin, Nevada. Once inside the casino, Keshishyan instructed the conspirator how to conduct identical, fraudulent withdrawals at cash advance kiosks within a short time window in order to circumvent Citibank security protocols. Keshishyan’s technique exploited a glitch that allowed his conspirators to withdraw several times the amount of seed money deposited into the accounts. In one case, Keshishyan and one of the co-conspirators were able to withdraw 10 times the amount of money deposited into one of the accounts opened in furtherance of the fraud. The conspirators were careful to keep their deposits and withdrawals under $10,000 (typically between $9,000 and $10,000) in order to avoid federal transaction reporting requirements.

As part of his guilty plea today, Keshishyan admitted that, using these methods, he and his co-conspirators stole more than $1 million from Citibank between June 2009 and January 2010. Keshishyan further admitted that, as the organizer of the conspiracy, he personally took a cut of every fraudulent withdrawal that he directed.

United States Attorney Duffy said, “This is an example of a class of cyber-fraud that burdens our financial system and results in a higher cost of doing business for American consumers. Along with our agency partners, my office is committed to detecting and prosecuting these schemes in whatever form they take.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn commented, “While advancements in technology have created a world of accessibility to users and a convenience for consumers, they have also left room for cyber criminals to exploit even the smallest of loopholes. The FBI will continue to use our investigative expertise in cyber and financial crimes to pursue those who illegally abuse our financial system for their own personal gain.”

Keshishyan is the 13th defendant to plead guilty in the case. The lone remaining charged defendant is a fugitive. Several of Keshishyan’s codefendants have already been sentenced to prison time and have been ordered to pay restitution for their roles in the scheme. Keshishyan is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Janis L. Sammartino on September 12, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. His guilty plea is subject to acceptance by Judge Sammartino.

DEFENDANT   Case Number:
Ara Keshishyan Age 31 Filmore, CA
- Sentencing hearing set for September 12, 2014, before Judge Sammartino.
 
Ara Harutyunyan Age 32 Glendale, CA

- Sentence: imprisonment for 12 months and one day; supervised release for three years; restitution of $307,161

 
Artur Harutyunyan Age 26 Glendale, CA

- Sentence: imprisonment for 12 months and one day; supervised release for three years; restitution of $307,161

 
Vahe Asatrian Age 31 North Hollywood, CA

- Sentence: imprisonment for 12 months; supervised release for three years; restitution of $307,161

 
Sarkis Mooshidian Age 39 Burbank, CA

- Sentence:  probation for five years; restitution of $66,500

 
Levon Karamyan Age 60 FUGITIVE

The charges and allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and this defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 
Migran Yamalyan Age 32 Winnetka, CA

- Sentencing hearing set for June 20, 2014, before Judge Sammartino

 
Seryozha Harutyunyan Age 61 Glendale, CA

- Sentence:  imprisonment for six months; supervised release for three years; restitution of $106,370

 
Lianna Avetisyan Age 26 North Hollywood, CA

- Sentencing hearing set for August 22, 2014, before Judge Sammartino

 
Ashot Oganisyan Age 32 Mission Hills, CA

- Sentencing hearing set for June 27, 2014, before Judge Sammartino.

 
Ovsep Sarafyan Age 35 North Hollywood, CA

- Sentence:  imprisonment for one month; home detention for seven months; supervised release for three years; restitution of $85,924

 
Daniel J. Thomas Age 58 Huntington Beach, CA

- Sentence:  probation for five years; restitution of $65,260

 
Hilda Hakverdyan Age 55 Glendale, CA

- Sentence:  probation for five years; restitution of $105,960

 
Asatur Asatryan Age 35 Pasadena, CA

- Sentencing hearing set for August 15, 2014, before Judge Sammartino

 
CHARGES

Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371 (all defendants)
Maximum penalty:  five years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine

INVESTIGATING AGENCY

Federal Bureau of Investigation

*Indictments and complaints are not evidence that the defendant committed the crime charged.  All defendants are presumed innocent until the United States meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.     

Updated July 23, 2015