Former California lawyer pleads guilty to $4 million wire fraud where clients were conned via forged judges' signatures and fake phone calls
LOS ANGELES – A former California attorney has pleaded guilty to one felony count of wire fraud for falsely representing to his clients that he obtained favorable legal resolutions for them, and then perpetuating the scheme by delivering clients fraudulent documents, some with the forged signatures of judges, and by making disguised telephone calls to them.
Shant Ohanian, 36, of Pasadena, entered his plea on Thursday before U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt, who scheduled a September 12 sentencing hearing. Ohanian faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Professional Responsibility and the California State Bar.
According to his plea agreement, Ohanian was a licensed California lawyer from January 2012 until he was disbarred in December 2017. Beginning in May 2012, Ohanian and his co-conspirator engaged in a scheme to defraud Ohanian’s clients by claiming he obtained favorable legal resolutions for them, when in fact the favorable resolutions had never been obtained, and, in many cases, Ohanian had never initiated a legal action, court papers state. In some cases, Ohanian’s deception caused his victim clients to entirely lose their opportunity to obtain significant financial or legal remedies as a result of wrongs suffered by them, according to court documents.
Ohanian admitted in his plea agreement to defrauding multiple victims, including one victim who hired Ohanian in July 2013 to assist in the recovery of a $500,000 deposit related to a failed commercial real estate transaction for an Ontario shopping center. During the course of that litigation, Ohanian falsely informed the victim that the victim had prevailed in the case and would receive $1.2 million in damages plus penalties, the plea agreement states.
In February 2016, Ohanian presented the victim with a counterfeit check for $1,925,477, which a bank later rejected, court papers state. Ohanian denied the check was counterfeit and in March 2016 he presented the victim with a check for $7,244,211, which also was rejected as counterfeit. Ohanian also falsely informed the victim that he was representing the victim in a parallel bankruptcy proceeding involving the Ontario shopping center, and he provided the victim phony bankruptcy court pleadings, including orders that contained the forged signature of a United States bankruptcy judge, according to court documents.
Ohanian also admitted to making multiple spoofed telephone calls to the victim in which he claimed to be either bank officials or government officials. He also falsely informed the victim that he would acquire the Ontario shopping center at a discounted price in lieu of a cash settlement, and that the victim needed to make payments for back taxes and overdue mortgage payments in order to acquire the property, and to make “unpaid court fees” to Ohanian even though no such fees were owed, court documents state. Between March 2016 and September 2017, the victim paid Ohanian $2,839,875 based on Ohanian’s false representations that the money would be used to acquire the shopping center, according to court documents.
Ohanian admitted to victimizing other clients, including a woman who suffered serious injuries in a fall at South Coast Plaza mall in Orange County, and for whom the statute of limitations had expired in the case before she realized Ohanian had defrauded her. Ohanian admitted to sending the victim a phony settlement agreement from the mall and, after she threatened to report him to the State Bar of California, a check for $25,000 that turned out to have been cancelled. He also falsely represented to clients seeking immigration relief that he had obtained important legal resolutions related to their ability to live and work in the U.S.
Ohanian’s victims suffered actual losses of more than $4 million.
Ohanian’s wife, Silva Sevlian Ohanian, has been charged with one count of wire fraud in a related case. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is currently scheduled to go to trial on July 16.
This matter is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney, Central District of California’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.