Organized gang criminals and bank fraud schemers get 25 years

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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.

Two men with ties to an Armenian criminal gang in Los Angeles will serve 25 years in a federal lockup for orchestrating a complex $8 million identity fraud from prison.

Angus Brown, 36, and Arman Sharopetrosian, 33, engineered the scheme while serving time in Avenal State Prison in the Central Valley.

Brown was serving time at Avenal for identity theft. Sharopetrosian met him in 2005 while he was at Avenal after a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon. Sharopetrosian learned Brown was still running an identity theft scheme from prison, and the two men joined forces to grow scheme.

“They essentially would hijack your bank account to where the bank had no idea that it wasn’t you,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada.

Estrada said the men used Armenian Power gang members as well as other street gangs to bribe bank insiders for private account information, take over customer accounts by changing addresses, and then use public records to get Social Security numbers and signatures so they could forge checks. He said the money sucked out the bank accounts would be moved to other accounts and then withdrawn.

“It was very sophisticated," said Estrada, "which made it difficult for anyone including the banks to detect."

Estrada said the scammers targeted elderly bank customers because many of them had healthy bank accounts, and because they were less likely to use Internet banking  and wouldn’t know right away that they were being defrauded.

The identity theft masterminds got caught last year when police investigating Armenian Power intercepted calls from gang members to smuggled cell phones that Sharpetrosian used at Avenal to keep running his fraud scheme.

There are 18 other conspirators who participated in the scheme. All have been convicted will soon be sentenced, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Sharopetrosian was also named in a racketeering indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles that targeted the Armenian Power gang. That case is pending.

Armenian Power originated during the 1980s in East Hollywood evolving into what federal authorities call a syndicate with international ties to the Mexican Mafia and to criminal operations in Armenia and Russia.

During a crackdown last year on the organized crime group, police arrested 74 people affiliated with Armenian Power and charged them with narcotics trafficking, kidnapping and bank fraud.

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