Armenian Gang Fraud Cost Victims at Least $20 Million, Authorities Say

Kate Linthicum and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2011

At least 74 reputed members of the Armenian Power organized crime gang were charged Wednesday in a fraud scheme that cost Southern California victims at least $20 million, law enforcement officials said.

Authorities said members of Armenian Power, or AP, face criminal charges with potential sentences ranging from a few years to life in prison.

A total of 99 members have been charged in two federal indictments and by the Los Angeles County district attorney with crimes including racketeering, extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking and identity theft.

Some of the defendants are accused of secretly installing sophisticated skimming devices that allowed them to steal customer account information at a dozen 99-Cent Only stores across the region, according to a 212-page federal indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Armenian Power members allegedly caused more than $2 million in losses when they used the skimmed information to create counterfeit debit and credit cards, the indictment alleges.

In addition, authorities allege Armenian Power worked in conjunction with African American street gangs to gather information that allowed them to take over bank accounts, often of older victims, that led to financial losses of $10 million.

Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said members of the gang used violence to maintain their fraudulent activities.

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Armenian Power is a small but virulent gang that took root among Armenian immigrants who arrived in Los Angeles in the 1980s and early 1990s, authorities said. The gang has about 200 members.

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