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California: 4 convicted in major bank fraud, identity thefts

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Associated Press – 3 hours ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Four members of an Armenian organized crime ring were convicted in one of the largest bank fraud and identity theft schemes in California history, the U.S. attorney's office announced Thursday.

All four were Armenian Power members or associates who targeted dozens of victims in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas, according to assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer. Over the course of the six-year conspiracy, more than $10 million was stolen.

Arman Sharopetrosian, 33; Karen Markosian, 39; Artush Margaryan, 28 and Kristine Ogandzhanyan, 28, were found guilty of conspiring to commit bank fraud, attempted bank fraud and various counts of aggravated identity theft on March 16. They are due for sentencing Aug. 6.

Sharopetrosian is a member of the Armenian Power organized crime group and was a ringleader of the massive fraud scheme, while the rest of the defendants were associates, prosecutors said.

Using cellphones smuggled into Avenal State Prison, the incarcerated Sharopetrosian and co-defendant Angus Brown coordinated a scheme to obtain Social Security numbers and birth dates and use the information to steal money from the account holders.

"These defendants, including two individuals who were operating from a prison cell, perpetrated a massive fraudulent scheme on behalf of a dangerous criminal enterprise," said Breuer. "Whether organized criminal groups traffic in drugs, commit financial fraud or wreak other havoc to keep themselves going, they must be stopped."

The scheme targeted high-value bank accounts, transferred money out of the accounts, had unauthorized checks printed for the accounts and used forged signatures to write checks.

In all, 20 defendants were charged in the sophisticated and lengthy scheme, which involved orders made from within prisons and the assistance of bank insiders who had been enlisted by the criminal organization.

To date, all but one of the defendants involved in the scheme have been convicted. Faye Bell is awaiting trial.

Those convicted face maximum sentences of 30 years in federal prison for each count of bank fraud, 30 years for each count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and additional mandatory two year sentences for each count of aggravated identity theft.

The convictions announced Thursday were:

— Sharopetrosian: One count of bank fraud conspiracy, four counts of bank fraud and seven counts of aggravated identify theft, for a maximum possible sentence of 164 years.

— Ogandzhanyan: One count of bank fraud conspiracy, two counts of attempted bank fraud and four counts of aggravated identity theft, for a maximum possible sentence of 98 years.

— Margaryan: One count of bank fraud conspiracy, one count of attempted bank fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft, for a maximum possible sentence of 66 years.

— Markosian: One count of bank fraud conspiracy, one count of attempted bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft, for a maximum possible sentence of 64 years.


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