Massive law enforcement effort busts Armenian Power criminal gang

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Shirley Jahad/KPCC

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, the indictment of 88 alleged members of the Armenian Power street gang. They were busted by some 800 officers from nine local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Some 800 local and federal law enforcement officers fanned out across Southern California this morning to round up members of an alleged street gang ring called Armenian Power.

United States Attorney for Southern California Andre Birotte says his office has charged 99 with racketeering and other crimes.

“Armenian Power is concerned with expanding its power and enriching its members through any number of offenses including kidnapping, extortion and narcotics trafficking," Birotte said. "The indictment alleges members of Armenian power also engaged in a number of sophisticated white collar fraud schemes such as identity theft, credit card skimming and the manufacture of counterfeit checks.’"

In Orange County, the gang allegedly stole from people’s bank accounts. Insiders working at the bank allegedly gave gang members private security information about bank customers. Then the gang allegedly used that information to transfer money and forge checks. Prosecutors say the gang took about $10 million in that scheme.

The gang also allegedly pulled off an identity theft scheme at local 99 cent stores. Authorities say the gang mananged to put a skimming devices on debit and credit card keypads in the discount retailer stores. Using that, they stole people's ATM numbers and then swiped money out of people's accounts.

"That would be an inside job," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. "You've got a clerk there that knows the layout, has a key to the 99 cent store, was probably able to do that without any suspicion on the part of the owner of the store."

Officials from the 99 cent store discovered the skimming devices and reported the situation to police. Authorities allege the gang stole $2 million in that scheme.

Officials say the gang Armenian Power started in the 1980s and has ties to Russia and Armenia. They say the gang is unusual because its members are involved in identity theft and financial fraud, along with violent crimes, and drug dealing.

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