Los Angeles, California - Federal authorities Thursday morning arrested nine defendants, most of whom allegedly were involved in a sophisticated money laundering scheme that moved tens of millions of dollars derived from tax fraud and health care fraud schemes.
Two indictments unsealed Thursday allege that a total of 10 defendants participated in a large operation that laundered more than $30 million in tax refunds that had been obtained from approximately 7,000 fraudulent tax returns filed using identities stolen from thousands of American taxpayers. Seven of the 10 defendants named in these two indictments were arrested Thursday morning, and three are still being sought by authorities.
Two additional defendants arrested are charged in two other indictments that allege fraud, one involving a car leasing scam and one involving a short sale scheme involving a $2 million residence that was forfeited to the United States earlier this year. A second defendant in the real estate scam is also a fugitive.
The leader of the schemes outlined in the two money laundering indictments – Gagik Airapetian – directed other conspirators to use altered foreign passports, mostly from the Republic of Armenia, to rent mailboxes and open bank accounts to launder funds from tax fraud and health care fraud, according to the indictments. Members of the conspiracies allegedly altered Republic of Armenia passports by placing their photographs on top of the real passport holders’ photographs, and then using the altered passports to open more than 500 bank accounts.
The nine defendants were arrested Thursday morning by special agents with the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation.
The defendants arrested pursuant to the money laundering indictments are: Gagik Airapetian, 62, of Woodland Hills; Tigran Galstyan, 48, of Sylmar; Moses Seraydarian, 54, of Northridge; Stepan Terakopyan, 35, of Granada Hills; Petros Terakopyan, 64, of Sun Valley; Karen Pogosian, 49, of Van Nuys; and Haroutioun Demirdjian, 54, of North Hollywood.
Authorities are continuing to search for three money laundering defendants: Davit Asoyan, 29, of Granada Hills; Nikoghos Petrosyan; and Albert Andriasov, 28, of Las Vegas.
Ara Sahakyan, 54, of Reseda, was arrested pursuant to the indictment alleging the car leasing scheme in which he leased three different vehicles by falsely claiming to be a CFO earning $189,000 per year.
In relation to the indictment that alleges the short sale scheme, Armen Oganesian, 56, of Los Feliz, was arrested this morning. Arsen Abrahamyan is also charged in this case, and he is believed to have fled the United States.
Members of the money laundering conspiracies used attorneys to try to unfreeze bank accounts that banks had frozen due to suspected fraud, according to court documents. Airapetian bribed a lawyer to use his attorney client trust account – which is supposed to be used by attorneys to segregate client funds from the attorney’s money – to launder more than $500,000 in tax fraud proceeds, the indictment states. Glendale lawyer Arthur S. Charchian previously pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of making a false statement to the Social Security Administration as he admitted laundering $549,000 for the scheme.
According to one of the indictments unsealed today, defendant Galstyan bribed bank managers to unfreeze bank accounts that contained funds suspected to have been derived from fraud. Last year, a former Wells Fargo Bank manager, Hakop Zakaryan, pleaded guilty to bank fraud for his role in the scheme.
The other money laundering indictment unsealed today describes a related conspiracy, also orchestrated by Airapetian, that laundered monies derived from health care fraud. Similar to the tax fraud money laundering scheme, members of this conspiracy allegedly opened bank accounts using fraudulent identities, and Airapetian allegedly charged a 30 percent laundering fee. As detailed in the indictment, the FBI also conducted an undercover operation where the schemers laundered funds they thought were from health care fraud.
The arrests this morning are part of a continuing multi-agency investigation into a Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) scheme – dubbed Operation “SIRF’s Up” – that involved conspirators who used false identities and fake Republic of Armenia and other former Soviet Republic passports to open hundreds of bank accounts that were used to launder tens of millions of dollars in tax refunds fraudulently received from the IRS. After the arrests this morning, federal authorities have now charged a total of 35 defendants linked to the scheme. So far, the investigation has resulted in 15 convictions, and the seizure of at least five residential properties worth millions of dollars and more than $700,000 from bank accounts. Five defendants remain fugitives from justice.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted of all charges, Airapetian would face a statutory maximum sentence of more than 400 years in federal prison. The other defendants in the money laundering indictments unsealed today each face prison statutory maximum sentences of more than 100 years of imprisonment.
This matter was investigated by IRS Criminal Investigation, the FBI, and Homeland Security Investigations.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Charles E. Pell of the Santa Ana Branch Office.