Authorities Charge Armenian-Americans In $100 Million Fraud Case

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By Nikola Krastev

NEWYORK (RFE/RL) — US law enforcement authorities have announced charges against 44 members of an Armenian- American criminal syndicate in connection with the operation of more than 100 medical clinics that filed some $100 million in fake claims to a government health insurance program.

The lead prosecutor in the case, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said the Mirzoyan- Terdjanian organization — which is named after its two alleged leaders, 35-year-old Davit Mirzoyan and 36-year-old Robert Terdjanian — employed threats, intimidation and violence and operated in a classical mafia style.

The reach of this organization stretches clear across the country and well beyond our shores. And so in terms of profitability, geographic scope and sheer ambition this emerging international organized crime syndicate would be the envy of any traditional mafia family,” Bharara said.

Bharara said that the group operated principally out of Los Angeles and New York but had offshoots in 25 states involved in extortion, credit card fraud, identity theft, immigration fraud and even distribution of contraband cigarettes and stolen Viagra.

Another arrest in New York (AP Photo)

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The indictment says most members of the organization were Armenian nationals or immigrants who maintained substantial ties to Armenia. In addition to regularly traveling there, they had criminal connections, transferred criminal proceeds to the country, and bought real estate and businesses with money from their illegal profits.

Armenian national Armen Kazarian, 46, is identified as the principal leader — the so-called “godfather” of the Mirzoyan-Terdjanian organization. The indictment identifies him as “vor v zakone,” or a thief in the law/code — a powerful figure in the criminal underworld of the former Soviet Union.

Kazarian immigrated to the United States in 1996 and has received asylum status despite frequently traveling to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Prosecutor Bharara said the case is the second time a “vor v zakone” has been charged with federal crimes in the United States but the first time one has been charged with federal racketeering.

Vaycheslav Ivankov — also known as “Yaponchik,” which means “Little Japanese” — a notorious Russian organized crime figure, was the first “vor v zakone.” He was arrested by the FBI in 1995 on extortion charges.

Ivankov was convicted and served nine years in a US prison before being deported to Russia. He was gunned down in Moscow in October 2009.

Janice Fedarcyk, the assistant director in charge of the FBI office in New York, said that US law enforcement authorities are always on the lookout for the next emerging criminal scheme, no matter where it’s coming from.

In early October, US law enforcement authorities announced the indictment of 73 individuals from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Belarus whom they accuse of participating in a complex Internet fraud scheme that targeted the bank accounts of US citizens, businesses, and cities.

Prosecutors in the Armenian case are investigating whether any of the arrested individuals were in the United States illegally.

Bharara said almost all of the indicted individuals are from Armenia but wouldn’t say whether Armenian authorities are helping with the case, but said foreign authorities are usually willing to cooperate with the United States.

The indictment almost reads like a thriller, with lurid details of the criminal defrauding enterprise, the members’ posh lifestyles, and their expensive cars:

The indictments in this case talk about phantom doctors, fancy cars, money laundering through [Las] Vegas casino chips, threats to disembowel rivals and more,” Bharara said.

That’s the kind of material that makes a great movie. But this is no movie. It is very real and we are using every resource at our disposal and every tool we can find to prosecute those alleged international gangsters.”

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the criminals conducted their business with remarkable efficiency.

And even though it was a very lavish fraudulent scheme, it’s amazing how they were able to maintain a low overhead. They actually did an awful lot of their operations out of a very small office over an auto-body shop on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. And one woman, Galina Vovk, was there from early morning to late at night [filling] out all of these [fraudulent claims],” Kelly said.

Galina Vovk is the wife of Robert Terdjanian, one of the principle leaders.

If convicted, the defendants face various sentences up to life imprisonment and up to $500,000 fine.

The office of the Armenian ambassador in Washington, Tatoul Markarian, did not return repeated calls from RFE/RL seeking comment.