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February 4, 2021Los Angeles, CAUnited StatesProfessional Responsibility

ICE probe leads to 15 years in prison for ex-lawyer who executed multimillion-dollar fraud where clients were victimized by forged judges’ signatures

LOS ANGELES – A disbarred lawyer was sentenced today to 180 months in federal prison for stealing more than $4 million from his clients through a variety of means, including collecting fees for work he never performed. The case is the result of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the State Bar of California.

Shant Ohanian, 38, of Burbank, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt, who stated that he intends at a future date to order Ohanian to pay restitution in an amount exceeding $2.5 million. Ohanian pleaded guilty in June 2019 to one count of wire fraud and has been in federal custody since the following month, when his bond was revoked because of allegations that he was continuing to defraud his clients.

“ICE will not stand by as criminals attempt to fleece vulnerable members of our community,” said Jeffrey Gilgallon, Special Agent in Charge for ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) Los Angeles. “As an attorney, Mr. Ohanian took an oath to provide competent representation to his clients. Instead, he devised an elaborate Ponzi scheme that paid existing victims with funds collected from new victims – disrupting lives and destroying credit along the way. ICE OPR will work tirelessly to uncover these schemes and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Ohanian was a licensed California lawyer from January 2012 until his disbarment in December 2017. During his legal career, Ohanian defrauded clients in need of his legal assistance in a variety of cases, including immigration applications, commercial disputes, divorce petitions and personal injury claims. In each case, Ohanian took no meaningful action on his clients’ behalf despite billing them for thousands of dollars or asking them to pay millions of dollars in litigation-related fees.

In some cases, Ohanian’s deception caused his victim clients to lose their opportunities to obtain significant financial or legal remedies because of wrongs they suffered. One client, a woman who suffered serious injuries in a fall at South Coast Plaza mall in Orange County, saw the statute of limitations expire in her case before she realized Ohanian 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 later turned out to have been cancelled.

In May 2012, two clients hired Ohanian to represent them in a business dispute, but he failed to take any steps to effectively litigate their claims despite telling them for six years that the case settled in their favor. Ohanian ultimately provided to them counterfeit checks totaling over $3.1 million to deceive them.

Other clients defrauded by Ohanian had sought representation for immigration-related issues. Some of them were green card applicants, while others were caught in foreign war zones and sought refugee status in the U.S. In every instance, Ohanian took their money, claimed he filed the appropriate paperwork, but did nothing.

To cover his tracks for lying for years to one client who had hired Ohanian to help obtain a green card, Ohanian claimed to have sued the federal government for failure to produce the green card. He continued his deception by using counterfeit emails and court orders that included the forged signatures of a state court judge and multiple other government officials. Ohanian falsely told the client that the U.S. government had been ordered to pay over $13.5 million in damages.

In other cases, Ohanian made multiple spoofed telephone calls to a client seeking recovery of a $500,000 deposit related to a failed commercial real estate transaction for an Ontario shopping center. In these calls, Ohanian pretended to be either bank officials or government officials. During that litigation, Ohanian falsely informed the victim that the victim had prevailed in the case and would receive $7.2 million in damages plus penalties.

Ohanian’s victims suffered actual losses exceeding $4 million.

In a related case, Ohanian’s wife, Silva Sevlian Ohanian, 33, of Burbank, has been charged with one count of wire fraud. She pleaded not guilty to the charge and is currently scheduled to go to trial on September 28.

This case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.

Updated: 02/05/2021