Donald Trump declared national emergency. How Armenian Power kills Americans
In early August, twelve residents of California have been detained and indicted for fraud with prescription drugs. The CrimeRussia identified links between the network of bogus medical clinics diverting massive amounts of prescription narcotics to the black market and famous street gang Armenian Power that has gained respect of the ‘Mexican mafia’ and other criminal clans of California back in the 1980s.
Narcotics kill Americans. This refers not to heroin and crack offered by street dealers – but to painkillers containing synthetic opiates. The pharmaceutical lobby has established virtually uncontrolled distribution of painkillers in the U.S.; as a result, Americans consume 80% of the opiate-containing medicines produced worldwide – while the number of people living in the U.S. does not exceed 5% of the world population. The authorities and media call the opiate dependence “a national epidemic”, while President Donald Trump has declared this opioid epidemic a national emergency on August 10, 2017 and said his administration was drafting papers to make it official amid the opioid crisis.
This is not an overstatement. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, some 560 people died in America from medication overdose since 1999. In 2015 alone, 42 thousand Americans died from synthetic opiate overdose. Based on the statistics, in 2017, it claims an average 142 deaths daily. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has calculated that over 2 million Americans are currently addicted to synthetic opiates – this is five times more than the number of heroin addicts.
Black market prices on oxycodone vary from $5 to $12 per tablet depending on the doze
Local efforts to reduce the usage of legal drugs do not bring real results. Prior to the introduction of restrictions on painkillers, American doctors were generously prescribing those to their patients, while now these drugs are easily available on the black market.
‘Maserati Mike’ and ‘white collars’
In the midst of a large-scale federal campaign against the opiate addiction, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Central District of California has reported on August 3, 2017 the arrest of 12 suspects charged with criminal conspiracy and creation of an extensive network of so-called ‘nomadic’ clinics. The majority of the detainees are American Armenians living permanently in California.
The indictment states that the defendants have received in drug stores and diverted to the black market at least 2 million opiate-containing pills using fake prescriptions issued by sham medical institutions.
Sandra R. Brown, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said that “in addition to generating illicit profits, this scheme helped drive the prescription drug epidemic that is causing so much harm across our nation”.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Central District of California, seven defendants, out of the twelve, are operators of seven sham medical clinics that had periodically opened and closed issuing hundreds of illicit prescriptions for oxycodone, Vicodin, Xanax, and other drug-containing medicines. Other detainees had performed various functions in the criminal community – from filling fraudulent narcotic prescriptions and receiving drugs in pharmacies to selling the medicines on the black market. Minas Matosyan, 36, also known as ‘Maserati Mike’, was the leader of this group.
Members of the criminal group of Minas Matosyan. Courtroom sketch by Mona Edwards
According to the U.S. authorities, Matosyan has established a criminal scheme and hired corrupt doctors who allowed the conspirators to issue fraudulent prescriptions under their names in exchange for kickbacks. In a recorded conversation described in court documents, Matosyan discusses how one doctor was paid “for sitting at home”, while thousands of narcotic pills were prescribed in that doctor’s name and Medicare was billed more than $500 thousand for purported patient care”.
‘Maserati Mike’ had allegedly supplied corrupt doctors to other sham clinics. In one example described in the court documents, Matosyan had provided a corrupt doctor to a clinic owner in exchange for $120.000.
Some doctors were drawn into the criminal scheme without their consent. When one of the doctors had refused the $20 thousand offered by Matosyan, his identities were stolen and the conspirators nevertheless created prescription pads for oxycodone in the doctor’s name. The conspirators had also issued prescriptions and submitted fraudulent billings in the name of a doctor who at that time was hospitalized and later died.
According to the court documents, the criminal community had included members of various ranks – from masterminds, doctors, and experts in document forging to ‘runners’ and ‘cappers’.
Each member of the criminal community had performed his/her own function. Armen Simonyan, 52, had allegedly managed the operations at some of the fraudulent clinics (according to CrimeRussia sources, H&M Medical Supply is registered in California in the name of Minas Matosyan; its current status is “Inactive”).
Detainee Grisha Sayadyan had allegedly received prescriptions from several clinics of the network and sold oxycodone and Vicodin pills directly to black market customers. Marisa Montenegro and Elizabeth Gurumdzhyan had allegedly filled fraudulent prescriptions. Her older sister Anait Guyumzhyan and younger brother of Minas Matosyan, Hayk Matosyan, 30, had filled fraudulent narcotic prescriptions at pharmacies, while Matosyan junior was also responsible for the sale of the lion’s share of the resulting narcotics pills to black-market customers.
In addition to the above defendants, the following persons have been indicted for complicity in a fraudulent scheme: Sabrina Guberman, Frederick Manning, James Wilson, Ralph Manning, and well-known in California criminal defense attorney Fred Minassian who had allegedly provided a ‘legal cover’ for the criminal group. Two more suspects in this criminal case have been put on the wanted list.
Criminal defense attorney Fred Minassian
It is necessary to note that all the defendants are residents of Los Angeles suburbs and nearby towns (Encino, Burbank, Hollywood, Santa Ana, and Glendale) that have been places of compact settlement of the Armenian diaspora in the U.S. for the last century. The majority of the detainees are people of intellectual occupations (doctors, businessmen, civil servants) – so-called ‘white collars’. Sisters Gurumdzhyan are the youngest among the suspects (25 and 27 years), while the age of other participants of the fraudulent scheme varies in the range of 45 to 66 years. Most of them have no previous criminal records, except for Minas Matosyan (an administrative penalty for a traffic accident) and 66-year-old Grisha Sayadyan convicted in 2010 in the framework of a high-profile swindling case.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Grisha Sayadyan was among the 10 people arrested for an attempted theft of $17 million from Medicare (the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older). It is necessary to note that the scheme of the crime committed in 2010 by a group consisting of eight Armenians and two Russians was very similar to the scheme described 7 years later in the indictment against 66-year-old Sayadyan who has relocated by that time from Glendale to adjacent Burbank.
The scheme worked in the following way: individuals would obtain the stolen identities of physicians to enroll as providers in the Medicare program and personal information of elderly people covered by it. The defendants would then open fake clinics by leasing office space or renting a post office box.
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, delivers a report about the Medicare scam
Other defendants would then open fraudulent bank accounts in the name of the clinics and doctors whose information had been stolen into which the federal program could transfer fraudulent claims. As the Medicare funds were received, they were withdrawn immediately and laundered via a chain of ‘friendly’ persons. Prior to the fraud exposure by the law enforcement authorities, the criminal group involving Sayadyan managed to steal $8 million from Medicare.
It is necessary to note that this amount is only a small portion of the damage sustained by the federal program due to the major scam – the total losses of Medicare from similar fraudulent actions in 25 states have been estimated at $163 million. The criminal case involving Sayadyan was a part of major operation “Diagnosis Dollars” carried out by the FBI and police. In total, 73 suspects have been indicted in the framework of this operation; 52 of them were remanded in custody. In addition, operation “Diagnosis Dollars” was the first severe blow delivered by the American law enforcement authorities to an ethnic organized crime syndicate known as Armenian Power.
Armenian Power (AP13 or WSAP13 (West Side Armenian Power)) is a hierarchical criminal community formed in Los Angeles in the 2000s on the basis of a street gang of the same name. Youth combat unit Armenian Power was created in the 1980s as a street gang in West Hollywood neighborhood Little Armenia to protect Armenian immigrants from the Latino organized crime. Armenian Power has morphed over the years into a well armed and structured criminal organization specializing mostly in drug trafficking, killings, robberies, extortion, kidnapping, and illegal gambling. In the late 1990s, the signature feature of Armenian Power were street killings of rivals from moving cars. According to the police, the gang has committed at least 10 such murders. Currently the Armenian Power headquarters are located in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb whose population is 70% Armenian. According to various estimations, the manpower of Armenian Power is 250 to 2 thousand members. In addition to alliances with Mexican and Afro-American criminal groups, Armenian Power is also known for its strong ties with the Russian criminal world, including thieves in law.
‘Dress code’ of Armenian Power is not really different from other street gangs of California
In the early 2000s, Armenian Power has left the street drug dealing to Latino gangs and largely switched to so-called ‘white-collar crimes’, including financial fraud, identity theft, credit card skimming, illegal money lending, and embezzlement of budget fund through elaborate schemes. Tough guys with weapons and “Armenian Power” tattoos are still present on the streets of Los Angeles suburbs, but nowadays they mostly provide protection for their well educated colleagues whose criminal revenues are much higher in comparison with trivial robberies.
The Medicare scam became a classic example of the new format of Armenian Power. It is necessary to note that thief in law Armen ‘Pzo’ Kazarian, a representative of Russian ‘thievish’ clan led by Asan ‘Ded Khasan’ Usoyan, was one of its organizers at the federal level.
Thief in law Armen ‘Pzo’ Kazarian, born in 1964, was ‘crowned’ in 1991 in Rostov-on-Don. Long before this, he became famous as a leader of a large organized criminal group in Yerevan. Russian law enforcement authorities suspect ‘Pzo’ of masterminding the murder of two Armenian ‘thieves-in-law’ – ‘Abo’ and ‘Leva’ – gunned down on the Rostov–Moscow highway in December 1993. In 1995, Armen Kazarian was nearly killed in Moscow when a sniper shot dead criminal ‘authority’ Ishkhan Sarkisyan standing near him. Since 1996, Kazarian has been residing in the U.S. According to some information, ‘Pzo’ maintains friendly relations with Sashik Sargsyan, a brother of the Armenian President, and supervises his business projects in America, including Glendale Hills development company specializing in construction in California.
Thief in law Armen ‘Pzo’ Kazarian
After settling in Glendale in 1996, Armen Kazarian quickly became one of the leaders of Armenian Power. Together with his accomplices Robert Terdjanian and David Mirzoyan, he has created a ring consisting of at least 118 ‘phantom’ medical clinics in 25 states. In addition to $163 million lost by Medicare, some $50 million have been stolen from Medicaid, a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources. According to some information, a portion of funds embezzled by ‘Pzo’ from the American insurance programs was transferred oversees to the pooled cash fund of the clan led by ‘Ded Khasan’. It was earlier reported that ‘Pzo’ had used services of some Ibrahim M., a representative of a Jordanian airline, to transfer abroad and legalize the funds. ‘Pzo’ and his associates have allegedly legalized a portion of the stolen funds in Armenia by purchasing elite real estate through illegal notarial instruments and corruption ties; however, officially Armenia has repeatedly denied this version.
After the exposure of the Medicare fraud by the FBI, 78 suspects have been charged with financial fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and illegal tobacco trade. For the totality of the charges laid, Kazarian was facing a life term, but he made a deal with the investigation and pled guilty to racketeering conspiracy. As a result, ‘Pzo’ was sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 37 months in prison, fine of $60 thousand, and confiscation of property, including a home in California worth $600 thousand. Taking into account the time spent by Kazarian in custody prior to the trial, in September of the same year, he has been released. Another member of the Armenian diaspora has contributed to such a lucky outcome of that story – criminal defense lawyer Mark John Geragos, a friend of famous lawyer Robert Kardashian, father of Kim Kardashian. Then David Mirzoyan, who used to oversee the gang’s activities on the U.S. West Coast, has also admitted his guilt in exchange for a mitigation of sentence.
Robert Terdjanian had denied his guilt, and the court has punished him more severely. Despite his secondary role in the criminal group, Terdjanian was sentenced to 10 years and 5 months behind bars and fine of $1,170,000 with deportation to Armenia after the release. Rumors had circulated about the possible extradition of ‘Pzo’ – but later it became known that Kazarian has got his green card as a refugee from Azerbaijan and, therefore, can not be deported to Armenia.
Arrest of a member of Armenian Power during operation “Power Outage”
After delivering the first devastating blow to Armenian Power, the American law enforcement authorities have carried out another massive operation dubbed “Power Outage” in February 2011. Over one thousand policemen, operatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and FBI agents had participated in its. More than ten sophisticated fraud schemes enriching ‘Armenian mafia’ at the expense of taxpayers and businesses have been uncovered.
Over 90 active members of Armenian Power, including both ‘white-collar’ swindlers and street fighters, were arrested and charged with various offences. Several gang leaders have been detained and indicted for extortion, including Mher Darbinyan, aka ‘Hollywood Mike’, ‘Capone’, and ‘Caps’, Rafael ‘Raffo’ Parsadanyan, and Arman ‘Kon’ (Horse) Sharopetrosyan.
Mher ‘Hollywood Mike’ Darbinyan and Arman ‘Kon’ Sharopetrosyan
It is necessary to note that businessman Minas Matosyan – above-mentioned ‘Maserati Mike’ arrested a month ago for sales of prescription narcotics – was the key witness in the case against Darbinyan and Sharopetrosyan 6 years ago.
During the investigation, the name of the witness was not disclosed, but later it became known that Matosyan had reported an extortion episode to the FBI back in 2009. According to Michael Severo, defense attorney for Darbinyan, Matosyan did not mention ‘Hollywood Mike’ in his report putting all the blame on Sharopetrosyan whose sister had reportedly lent him $95 thousand. Allegedly ‘Kon’ had set the clock ticking for Matosyan and started demanding $160 thousand from him threatening the debtor’s family and sending armed people to him.
There was an evidence in the case indicating that Darbinyan was aware of the pressure put on Matosyan – although it rather counted in favor of the leader of Armenian Power. In a recorded telephone conversation, Darbinyan offered Matosyan to pay for him $2 thousand to Sharopetrosyan – who had demanded weekly payments, albeit in small installments. During the evidence collection, the FBI agents had to satisfy the demands of ‘Kon’ giving thousands of dollars to the extortion victim from the operative fund.
Interestingly, the extortion of money from Matosyan has stopped prior to the arrest of the suspects and without any FBI involvement. According to the law enforcement authorities, a very influential person had called from Armenia and assumed the debt of Matosyan.
However, this turn of events hasn’t affected the case against Mher Darbinyan. Although Matosyan did not testify against him, while Darbinyan had denied any guilt, he was sentenced to a large prison term because of the great influence ‘Hollywood Mike’ had on Armenian Power and other Californian gangs. Especially taking that he completely deserved the punishment.
Mher Darbinyan (squatting in the center) and his Armenian Power comrades
An entire arsenal of weapons has been seized from Darbinyan; he was found guilty of kidnapping and a number of other crimes. But most of all, the public was outraged by two fraud schemes targeting the American taxpayers
In the framework of the first swindling operation, several million dollars were stolen from clients of Bank of America, Citibank, and other financial institutions. Associates of Darbinyan were stealing customers’ personal information using sophisticated tricks, including video cameras installed in the banks, and then forged their personal cheques and cashed hundreds of thousands of dollars. The other fraud targeted customers of 99 Cents Only Stores. The malefactors had purchased POS-terminals identical to those used in 99 Cents Only, installed reading devices on those and replaced the original terminals in the stores with the skimmers for several days. Then the criminals retrieved their skimmers with thousands of customers’ debit card numbers and PIN codes, cloned the cards, and withdrew at least 2 million dollars from the client’s accounts.
Associates of ‘Hollywood Mike’ have stolen banking information of thousands of Americans in three days
Mher Darbinyan was found guilty on 57 counts. He was facing a total prison term of 973.5 years, but ultimately the court has sentenced the leader of Armenian Power to 32 years behind bars. This seems a pretty large term, too – but Darbinyan had earlier forged a strategic relationship with La eMe, the Californian most powerful prison gang also known as ‘Mexican mafia’. Therefore, members of Armenian Power feel themselves safe in jails and as comfortable as at liberty. It is known that ‘Hollywood Mike’, jointly with La eMe, had established an uninterrupted supply of drugs and cell phones to penitentiary institutions of California.
Members of Armenian Power and La eMe together
Surprisingly, but the status of a ‘whistleblower’ hasn’t ruined the life of Minas Matosyan. LA Weekly wrote in 2014 that he had voluntarily refused to ‘disappear’ under the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program and continued living normal life – although watching his back from time to time. Meanwhile, users of Armenian forums in California were noting that Mher Darbinyan had never blamed Matosyan for his arrest – he was well aware of the true reasons behind it. An anonymous user suggested that while being in detention, Darbinyan may receive the lion’s share of proceeds from illegal sales of prescription narcotics fraudulently acquired by the group of ‘Maserati Mike’. No one can say whether this is true or not – but should Darbinyan really have hard feelings against Matosyan, the witness who had ‘turned in’ the boss of ‘Armenian mafia’ to the FBI wouldn’t survive a day in Burbank or Glendale where every second resident has friendly, business, or family ties with Armenian Power.
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