Federal authorities arrested nine defendants on Thursday from the Los Angeles area, most of whom were allegedly 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 in Los Angeles federal court 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 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, and three were still being sought by authorities, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Two additional defendants arrested Thursday were charged in two separate indictments that allege fraud, one involving a car leasing scam and the other 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 is Gagik Airapetian who 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 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
-- Haroutioun Demirdjian, 54, of North Hollywood
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 also arrested Thursday.
Authorities were continuing to search for three money laundering defendants: Davit Asoyan, 29, of Granada Hills; Nikoghos Petrosyan; and Albert Andriasov, 28, of Las Vegas.
Arsen Abrahamyan is also charged in this case, and is believed to have fled the U.S.
The other money laundering indictment unsealed Thursday described a related conspiracy, also allegedly 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% laundering fee.
As detailed in the indictment, the FBI also conducted an undercover operation in which the schemers laundered funds they thought were from health care fraud, prosecutors said.