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Financial Crimes
02/27/2013

8 Los Angeles-area residents charged with using stolen identities to seek more than $19 million in tax refunds

LOS ANGELES — Authorities arrested six people Wednesday morning linked to a large-scale tax fraud scheme that allegedly used stolen identities to fraudulently file more than 2,500 income tax returns that sought in excess of $19 million in fraudulent tax refunds.

The arrests by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - Criminal Investigation are the result of "Operation National Treasure," an eight-month investigation into a ring that allegedly obtained nearly $10 million from the IRS.

The six arrested Wednesday are among eight defendants named in a 132-count indictment filed Monday in U.S. District Court. The eight defendants allegedly operated a scheme that started in 2010 with the theft of personal identity information, such as driver's license and Social Security numbers. Armed with this data, members of the conspiracy allegedly submitted income tax returns to the IRS using the names of the identity theft victims. Members of the conspiracy allegedly established mailing addresses, which were used to receive the refunds sent through the U.S. mail as United States Treasury checks. According to the indictment, the defendants took the fraudulently obtained checks to various "check cashers," who took a "cut" before providing cash to the defendants.

"Identity theft is one of the nation's fastest growing crimes, and it impacts more and more Americans every year," said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. "This Los Angeles-based crime ring is alleged to have combined identity theft with tax fraud to create an intrusive and sophisticated scheme designed to victimize more than 1,800 individuals and to defraud the United States Government out of millions of dollars."

Those arrested Wednesday are:

  • Ashot Karapetian, 47, of North Hollywood;
  • Suren "Sonny" Gambaryan, 33, of North Hollywood;
  • Artak "Max" Berberyan, 33, of Van Nuys;
  • Vigen "Vic" Tsaturyan, 47, of Sun Valley;
  • Armen "Roman" Berberyan, 33, of Van Nuys; and
  • Arman Zargaryan, 30, of Granada Hills.

These defendants are expected to be arraigned Wednesday in federal court in Santa Ana, where the case will be litigated.

Additionally, two defendants named in the indictment are currently being sought by authorities. They are:

  • Akop "Jack" Kantrdzyan, 33, of Sylmar; and
  • David Samsonyan, also known as "Little Guy," 31, of Winnetka.

According to the indictment, the defendants obtained 1,844 stolen identities. Many of the identities came from retirees and residents of homeless shelters, some of whom had not filed federal income tax returns in years. In an effort to conceal their activities, the indictment alleges the conspirators used coded language to refer to Treasury checks, called each other by nicknames, provided false home addresses on their own driver's licenses and other identity documents, and employed third-party "straw buyers" to purchase property for the defendants' own use.

"These individuals demonstrated a blatant disregard for the integrity of the United States tax system and caused immeasurable hardship to innocent victims," said Richard Weber, chief of IRS - Criminal Investigation. "IRS - Criminal Investigation remains committed to the pursuit of identity theft and, together with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney's Office, we will hold those who engage in similar conduct accountable."

The indictment specifically alleges that members of the conspiracy filed at least 2,977 false federal income tax returns (Forms 1040) with the IRS, fraudulently claiming a total of $19,324,632 in refunds. The IRS paid out approximately $9,952,077 based on the fraudulently filed 1040 Form tax returns.

"Today's arrests are a clear warning that anyone who steals the identities of innocent taxpayers to file fraudulent income tax returns for personal profit will be aggressively pursued, investigated and prosecuted," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. "These crimes are pure theft, and they victimize us all. HSI will continue to use its unique investigative authorities to identify and dismantle these harmful schemes."

The indictment includes charges of conspiracy, theft of government money, mail fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft, cashing government checks with forged signatures. All eight defendants are charged in the conspiracy count, and each are charged in various mail fraud counts. If convicted, each defendant would face a statutory maximum penalty of at least 45 years in federal prison.

In addition to the six defendants named in the tax fraud case who were arrested Wednesday morning, authorities took another two individuals into custody on unrelated charges. They are:

  • Armine Nazaryan, 41, of North Hollywood, who was indicted on charges of making false statements to HSI agents; and
  • Spartak Karapetian, 23, of North Hollywood, the son of Ashot Karpetian, who was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Operation National Treasure was an investigation conducted by IRS - Criminal Investigation and HSI, with substantial assistance provided by the Los Angeles Police Department.