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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Members of Armenian human smuggling ring indicted on federal charges

Global smuggling network extended from Armenia to Southern California

SAN DIEGO — The alleged leader of an international human smuggling ring and two of his coconspirators have been indicted on federal charges for smuggling Armenian nationals into the U.S. through the San Ysidro Port of Entry in exchange for thousands of dollars.

Grigor Chatlayan, 44, of Hollywood; along with Varduhi Avagyan, 42; and Meri Avetsiyan, 40, both of Glendale; are charged with bringing illegal aliens into the United States for financial gain. Chatlayan is also charged with aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. The indictment, unsealed at an arraignment hearing Monday, stems from a human smuggling investigation by San Diego-based special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

"HSI is committed to identifying new criminal organizations that seek to bring their global smuggling operations to the Southwest," said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. "We will continue working jointly with our law enforcement partners worldwide to combat crime and violence in hotspots along the California-Mexico border."

HSI special agents took Chatlayan into custody Saturday at the San Ysidro border crossing when he attempted to enter the U.S. from Mexico. His coconspirators Avagyan and Avetsiyan were arrested Nov. 1, 2013, while attempting to smuggle two Armenian nationals into the U.S. at the port of entry. All three face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the human smuggling charge. If convicted of all of the charges, Chatlayan could be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of seven years in custody.

According to the indictment, Chatlayan led an international smuggling enterprise that smuggled Armenian nationals, who paid up to $18,000 each, to be smuggled from Armenia to the U.S. by way of Moscow and Cancun, Mexico.

As part of the scheme, Chatlayan arranged for flights into Moscow and provided Armenians with fraudulent Russian passports. The individuals then traveled on commercial flights to Cancun. From there, the smuggling network transported the individuals to Tijuana, Mexico. Chatalyan and his co-conspirators would then procure valid U.S. legal permanent resident cards or passport cards, which the aliens used to enter into the U.S. as impostors at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego