By Matt Hamilton and Harriet Ryan
LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times) — Four influential California lawmakers called this week for an investigation into a $17.5-million class-action settlement on behalf of Armenian genocide victims that a Times investigation found had been marred by fraud, diverted funds and a rejection rate of 92 percent.
US Representatives Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), the only Armenian Americans in Congress, along with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said they were disgusted by misconduct The Times detailed in a report last week.
“I am deeply concerned and outraged by the issues raised,” Portantino said in a statement. “The Armenian Genocide was a horrendous historical atrocity and descendants of those murdered should not be victimized or be denied their rightful settlements.”
Three Armenian-American attorneys from Los Angeles, including prominent lawyers Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck, secured the settlement with the French insurance company AXA a decade and a half ago. The funds were supposed to compensate the families of genocide victims with unpaid insurance policies and support Armenian charities selected by a French nonprofit.
The Times investigation found that that the French nonprofit was never established; some of the money was sent to the pet charities of lawyers involved in the case, including their alma mater; and hundreds of thousands of dollars were directed to sham claimants. Less than 8 percent of claims submitted by Armenians around the world were approved, despite what in many cases was overwhelming evidence that the applicants were rightful heirs.