LOS ANGELES (Combined Sources) — As a result of two federal indictments and state cases that charge a total of 99 defendants with a wide range of crimes — including kidnapping, extortion, bank fraud and narcotics trafficking — law enforcement authorities on February 16 arrested 74 members and associates of the Armenian Power organized crime group.
The majority of the defendants arrested are named in two federal indictments that charge a total of 88 defendants linked to Armenian Power, which is commonly called AP. AP is an international organized crime group that started as a street gang in East Hollywood in the 1980s. While members often identify themselves with tattoos, graffiti and gang clothing, the organization is less concerned with controlling “turf” than traditional street gangs and has long maintained a presence in several communities in the Hollywood area and the San Fernando Valley.
According to United States Attorney André Birotte Jr., the group has senior criminals nicknamed “thieves in-law” associated with the gang who help coordinate AP’s activities in the United States with actions by criminal groups in Russia, Georgia and Armenia. But Armenian Power is also broken down into cells with their own leaders, Birotte said. Members have colorful nicknames like “Capone,” “Thick Neck,” “Stomper” and “Casper,” according to the indictments.
One indictment accuses 29 defendants with participating in a RICO conspiracy in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The RICO charge alleges a host of illegal activities, some of which are sophisticated white-collar crimes such as identity theft, credit card skimming and manufacturing counterfeit checks. Among the conspiracies charged in the racketeering indictment is a bank fraud and counterfeit credit card scheme that victimized hundreds of customers of 99 Cents Only Stores throughout Southern California. AP members allegedly caused more than $2 million in losses when they secretly installed sophisticated “skimming” devices to steal customer account information at cash registers and then used the skimmed information to create counterfeit debit and credit cards.
The 134-count racketeering indictment returned three weeks prior to the arrests by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles charges a total of 70 defendants. In addition to the RICO count that includes nearly 450 overt acts, the indictment includes charges against AP members for kidnapping, extortion, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, credit card fraud, marijuana distribution, and conducting an illegal gambling business.
“The indictments that target the Armenian Power organized crime enterprise provide a window into a group that appears willing to do anything and everything illegal to make a profit,” said Birotte. “These types of criminal organizations — through the use of extortions, kidnappings, and other violent acts — have demonstrated a willingness to prey upon members of their own community. As we have seen in Los Angeles and elsewhere, these groups also engaged in various fraud schemes that clearly have had a significant impact on financial institutions and their customers who have lost millions of dollars and lost their sense of security through identity theft and credit card fraud.”