13 members and associates of transnational organized crime groups charged in South Florida
MIAMI - Three indictments were unsealed in the Southern District of Florida on Wednesday, charging 13 South Florida individuals with extortion conspiracy, credit card fraud, money laundering, firearms smuggling, marriage fraud, and health care fraud, among other crimes.
They were among the 102 members and associates of Armenian Power (AP), an international organized crime group, who were also charged on Wednesday in the Los Angeles and Denver areas in related actions.
So far, 81 have been arrested in the three cities by special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and other federal, state and local authorities, with additional arrests expected.
The 13 South Florida residents are: Aram Khranyan, 41, of Sunny Isles Beach, Armen Mkhitaryan, 38, of Sunny Isles Beach, Karen Sarkissian, 37, of Sunny Isles Beach, Gegam Kalashyan, 41, of Hallandale Beach, Azizaga Salimov, 29, of Hallandale Beach, Andranik Itchmelyan, 48, of Davie, Anahit Karapetyan, 40, of Davie, Vladimir Okun, 44, of Davie, Harvey Lerfelt, 51, of North Miami Beach, Frank Rodriguez, 52, of North Miami Beach, Andrey Shchegolev, 49, of Hollywood, Mira Shatkhin, 35, of Sunny Isles Beach, and Tammy Summers, 44, of Hollywood. According to court documents, several of these defendants maintain associations with members and associates of AP, as well as with a "Thief-in-Law," who was arrested in the Southern District of New York in October 2010. The term "Thief-in-Law" refers to a member of a select group of high-level criminal figures from Russia and the former Soviet Union who receives tribute from other criminals, offers protection, and uses his recognized position of authority to resolve disputes among criminals.
According to court documents, Khranyan directed and supervised an organized criminal group consisting of Mkhitaryan, Sarkissian, Kalashyan, Salimov, Itchmelyan and Okun (the Khranyan Organization), which operated domestically and internationally. Court documents further allege that Khranyan had meetings with a "Thief-in-Law" in Miami and Las Vegas, Nevada. Khranyan is also alleged to have met with a leader of AP in Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Court documents also allege that the Khranyan Organization maintained ties to Russia and Armenia through Khranyan.
ICE's HSI Special Agent in Charge in Miami Anthony V. Mangione said, "ICE special agents have unique and wide array of investigative authorities in detecting, deterring and dismantling criminal organizations. In this investigation, ICE HSI special agents determined that Aram Khranyan entered in a false marriage to obtain permanent legal status in the United States in an attempt to further his criminal enterprise operations. Time after time, we see criminal organizations exploit the vulnerabilities in the immigration system. ICE will continue to collaborate with our law enforcement partners in disrupting these criminal organizations who pose a threat to national security and public safety and to preserve the integrity of the immigration process."
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, "Organized crime relies on extortion and the intimidation of victims through violence and fear. Today's takedown has removed 100 members and associates of organized crime groups from the streets of Miami, Los Angeles, and Denver. We stand firm in our resolve to help eliminate organized criminal activity, be it domestic or transnational."
John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Miami Office said, "The impact on Eurasian Organized Crime is not just from the sheer number of arrests today but from disrupting their criminal influence in our community. Although the investigations in Miami and Los Angeles are in different parts of the country, today's takedown is an example of the FBI's ability to conduct cross-program, multi-divisional and multi-agency investigations targeting a national level threat."
"In this investigation, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) special agents followed the money trail through a series of fraudulent credit card transactions disguised to defraud financial institutions," said Daniel W. Auer, special agent in charge, IRS Criminal Investigation Division. "We are united with the rest of the law enforcement community in our resolve to dismantle criminal organizations that commit crimes against our society and economy."
Allison Suliveras, assistant director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), added, "Our CBP officers and the rest of our sister agencies participating in this investigation have proven themselves to be models of law enforcement partnership and given an outstanding example of the very real effect that these joint efforts can have on criminal activity."
"The Sunny Isles Beach Police Department is proud to have been a part of this successful joint operation between federal and local law enforcement," said Chief of Police for the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department Fred Maas. "These efforts protect our citizens from international criminal enterprises that threaten our personal safety and economic well-being."
The first indictment charges nine defendants in 32 counts. The first two counts charge Khranyan, Salimov, Kalashyan, Sarkissian, Mkhitaryan and Itchmelyan with conspiring to commit extortion. These counts allege that between Dec. 9 and 24, 2009, the defendants threatened physical harm to an individual, identified as Victim 1, to obtain repayment of a debt. The indictment identifies Khranyan as the one who coordinated and directed the co-defendants in the commission of the extortion. Counts 3 and 4 of the indictment allege a scheme, from July 2009 to the present, in which Khranyan, assisted by Summers and Salimov, entered into a sham marriage with Mira Shatkhin so that Khranyan could fraudulently obtain permanent legal status in the United States. Counts 5 through 28 charge Sarkissian and Mkhitaryan with credit card fraud in 2008 and then laundering the credit card fraud proceeds. Lastly, Counts 29 to 32, charge Itchmelyan, Kalashyan, and Okun with transporting numerous firearms in 2009 from the United States to Yerevan, Armenia, without obtaining the appropriate license.
The remaining two indictments unsealed Wednesday in Miami allege health care fraud schemes running from 2007 to the present. Itchmelyan, Karapetyan and Rodriguez are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and substantive counts of health care fraud in connection with their ownership and operation of Hallandale Medical Associates Inc. Okun, Shchegolev and Lerfelt are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and substantive counts of health care fraud in connection with their ownership and operation of Family Chiropractic Center Inc. Both of these clinics allegedly paid individuals to refer "patients" of staged accidents. The clinics billed private automobile insurance carriers for treatments that were either not medically necessary or were not provided.
In related separate actions in Los Angeles, two indictments charged 88 defendants with a wide variety of violent and fraud-related crimes. The alleged crimes include kidnapping, extortion, assault, witness intimidation, bank fraud, credit card fraud and drug distribution.
In the indictment unsealed in Denver, another defendant was charged with conspiring with others to make false statements to the United States on credit and loan applications. The indictment charges that the defendant, acting under the control of a transnational criminal group, established a shell company and then used that shell company to apply for business and personal credit cards, car loans and leases, consumer loans and a home equity loan.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, IRS, ICE's HSI in Miami, CBP's Office of Field Operations, and the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department. Valuable assistance was also provided by the Criminal Division, International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, Miami-Dade Police Department, North Miami Beach Police Department, Hallandale Beach Police Department, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General, Florida Department of Financial Services's Division of Insurance Fraud, the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Serious Organised Crime Agency of the United Kingdom.
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Huynh and Cynthia Stone and Criminal Division Trial Attorneys Margaret Honrath, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, and Constantine Lizas, Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.