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Press Release

Suspected Member Of Armenian Smuggling Ring Arrested On Complaint

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

SAN DIEGO, CA – An alleged fourth member of an Armenian alien smuggling ring made her first appearance in federal court today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes.

Maria Yanakopulus, 57, is charged with participating in an international alien smuggling organization that brought undocumented Armenian nationals illegally into the United States in exchange for thousands of dollars.

A complaint unsealed today alleges that Yanakopulus was a member of an international smuggling enterprise whereby Armenian nationals were smuggled from Armenia to the United States by way of Moscow, Russia and Cancun, Mexico. In exchange, Armenian nationals were made to pay up to $18,000 each to be brought into the United States. Once in Mexico, the smuggling organization would transport the Armenian nationals to Tijuana, Mexico. The alien smuggling ring would then procure valid U.S. legal permanent resident or passport cards from within the United States and attempt to pass the Armenian nationals as imposters to those documents through the San Ysidro, California, Port of Entry.

In this case, on October 30, 2013, Yanakopulus allegedly drove her white Honda Civic with three undocumented Armenian nationals into the United States through the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Yanakopulus presented to a Customs and Border Protection officer valid I-551 cards (“green cards”) bearing the names and photographs of other individuals for the three Armenian nationals. The three Armenian nationals were then admitted into the United States as imposters to the green cards.

Yanakopulus is the fourth member of this alien smuggling organization arrested by federal agents. On November 1, 2013, Varduhi Avagyan, 42, and Meri Avetisyan, 40, both of Glendale, California were arrested for attempting to smuggle two Armenian nationals into the country. On June 12, 2014, Grigor Chatalyan, the alleged ring leader of the smuggling ring, was arrested as he crossed into the United States at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Chatalyan is charged with coordinating and directing the international alien smuggling organization. Chatalyan, Avagyan, and Avestisyan are charged in case No. 14CR1646-MMA and a motion hearing/trial setting is scheduled for November 3, 2014 in that case.

Yanakopulus is charged with conspiracy and three counts of bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain. In addition, Yanakopulus is charged with aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. She faces a maximum penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. If convicted on all charges, Yanakopulus could be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of five years in custody as well as an additional two year consecutive sentence for aggravated identity theft.

Judge Stormes held a bond hearing today and ordered conditions of release for Yanakopulus, which include the posting of a $30,000 cash or corporate surety bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for September 18, 2014, before Judge Stormes.

DEFENDANT   Case Number: 14MJ3067
Maria Yanakopulus Age: 57 Glendale, California

Conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371

Bringing in Illegal Aliens for Financial Gain, 8 U.S.C. §1324(a)(2)(B)(ii)

Aiding and Abetting Aggravated Identity Theft, 18 U.S.C. § 1028A and 18 U.S.C. § 2


Homeland Security Investigations

*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