Four members and associates of the Armenian Power gang, as well as four others, pleaded guilty late Monday to charges related to the activities of the Armenian Power criminal enterprise, including racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, drug-trafficking and illegal possession of firearms.
The eight who pleaded guilty yesterday are among 70 people who were charged two years ago in a 140-count indictment that outlined the criminal activities of the Armenian Power gang. The indictment accused 29 defendants, including four of those who pleaded guilty yesterday, of participation in the Armenian Power racketeering conspiracy. The RICO count in the indictment alleges a host of illegal activities, including sophisticated fraud schemes involving identity theft, bank fraud, credit card skimming, counterfeit checks and money laundering. The indictment also alleged a variety of violent crimes, such as extortion, kidnapping and firearms offenses.
The racketeering indictment alleges a bank fraud and identity theft scheme that victimized hundreds of customers of 99 Cents Only Stores across Southern California. Through the scheme, defendants caused more than $2 million in losses when they secretly installed sophisticated “skimming” devices to steal customer debit card account information at cash registers, and then used the skimmed information to create counterfeit debit cards that were used to steal money from victims’ bank accounts.
The eight defendants who pleaded guilty yesterday before United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson are:
- Karo Yerkanyan, also known as “Guilty,” 32, of Tujunga, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana, and felon in possession of a firearm;
- Arman Tangabekyan, aka “Spito and “Thick Neck,” 34, of Encino, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft;
- Artur Pembejian, aka “Cham,” 36, of Burbank, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy;
- Raymond Tarverdyan, aka “Rye,” 35, of Montrose, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and bank fraud;
- Simon Antonyan, aka “Simo,” 38, of Hollywood, who pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft;
- Khachatur Arakelyan, aka “Khecho,” 39, of Glendale, who pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft;
- Vartenie Ananian, 29, of Tujunga, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud; and
- Adam Davoodian, 32, of Glendale, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
The eight defendants who pleaded guilty yesterday played various roles in the activities of the Armenian Power gang, including participating in bank fraud, drug distribution, access device fraud, identity theft and illegal firearm possession.
Yerkanyan, a member of the Armenian Power conspiracy, participated in a bank fraud scheme that obtained the personal identifying information and account information of victims. He and his co-conspirators used the information to open fraudulent bank accounts, loans and lines of credit at HSBC Bank and Bank of America without the knowledge of the victims. Yerkanyan also participated, along with Davoodian, in a scheme to steal approximately 207 pounds of marijuana, worth approximately $450,000, from another drug distributor.
Tangabekyan, another member of the Armenian Power conspiracy, participated in a bank fraud scheme by obtaining personal information and account information for victims and then obtaining or transferring over $475,000 in funds.
Pembejian, a member of the Armenian Power conspiracy, abetted the illegal possession of a firearm by a leader of the Armenian Power gang, Mher Darbinyan.
Tarverdyan, an Armenian Power member – along with Antonyan, Arakelyan and Ananian – participated in the scheme to secretly install the skimming devices at the 99 Cents Only Stores.
According to court documents, the Armenian Power street gang formed in the East Hollywood district of Los Angeles in the 1980s. The gang’s membership consisted primarily of individuals of Armenian descent, as well as of other countries within the former Soviet bloc. The Armenian Power has been designated under California state law as a criminal street gang and is believed to have over 250 documented members, as well as hundreds of associates. According to court documents, Armenian Power members and associates regularly carry out violent criminal acts, including murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, robberies, extortions, and witness intimidation in order to enrich its members and associates and preserve and enhance the power of the criminal enterprise.
The defendants who pleaded guilty this week are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Pregerson beginning on November 25. At sentencing, Yerkanyan faces a maximum penalty of 102 years in prison. Tangabekyan faces a maximum penalty of 52 years in prison. Tarverdyan faces a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison. Ananian faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Pembejian and Davoodian each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. And Antonyan and Arakelyan each face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
Fifty-one other defendants have previously pleaded guilty in the racketeering case.
This case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.
The case was investigated by the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, which is comprised of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Glendale Police Department, the Burbank Police Department, the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.
In addition to the racketeering indictment targeting Armenian Power, federal authorities in 2011 obtained a second indictment that was filed in Orange County. The case charged 22 defendants (two of whom were also charged in the racketeering indictment). Similar to some of the schemes alleged in the racketeering indictment, the Orange County case alleges that AP members, working in conjunction with members of African-American street gangs, engaged in a bank fraud scheme that targeted elderly victims and caused losses of at least $10 million. All of the defendants charged in that case have been convicted, with two of them already receiving sentences of 25 years in federal prison.