By Edmond Y. Azadian
The late writer, publicist and community activist Antranig Antreassian had a favorite anecdote reflecting the collective Armenian moral high ground. Whether it was true or anecdotal does not make much of a difference because it referred to Armenian self-respect. The story goes like this: a judge in Fresno faces a defendant with an Armenian last name who is brought to the court with a minor offense. The judge gives a tongue-lashing to the defendant, adding that in his 20 years at the bench he has never met an Armenian defendant. He advises this sole sample: “Get lost, and do not tarnish the good reputation of your fellow Armenians.”
It would have been an ironic twist for Antreassian, and, for that matter, for the judge, if they could raise their heads from the graves to witness the Armenian name dragged into the mud.
No one knows the exact numbers of Armenians in California prisons for offenses ranging from petty thefts to major crimes. Once in a while, the news media reports sensational stories about Armenian crime syndicates and massive arrests, always playing up the ethnic origins of the defendants in order to embarrass the entire community.
Last October, authorities arrested 52 members of an Armenian crime group, charging them with a $160-million nationwide Medicare fraud. At that time Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) made it clear that the members of that crime syndicate were Armenian Americans. Recently another sensational scandal was brought to light and Reuters, Associated Press and Canadian Press did not fail to play up again the ethnic origins of the criminals.
As reported in the media, two federal indictments and state cases have charged a total of 99 defendants with a wide range of crimes — including kidnapping, extortion, bank fraud and narcotic trafficking. The majority of 74 arrested members are linked to the Armenian Power (AP) group. If convicted, the defendants indicted as a result of Operation Power Outage face varying prison sentences. The defendants named in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) court face up to 20 years in federal prison for their offenses, and those charged in the marijuana-related offenses face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years on narcotics charges.