Six Arrested in San Fernando Valley-Based Tax Fraud Scheme that Used Stolen Identities to Seek More Than $19 Million in Tax Refunds

LOS ANGELES – Authorities this morning arrested six people linked to a large-scale tax fraud scheme that allegedly used stolen identities to fraudulently file more than 2,500 income tax returns that sought over $19 million in fraudulent tax refunds.

The arrests by special agents with IRS - Criminal Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) are the result of “Operation National Treasure,” an eight-month investigation into a ring that allegedly obtained nearly $10 million from the IRS. 

The six arrested this morning are among eight defendants named in a 132-count indictment that was filed Monday in United States District Court. The eight defendants allegedly operated a scheme that started in 2010 with the theft of personal identifying information, such as driver’s license and Social Security numbers. Armed with this data, members of the conspiracy allegedly submitted income tax returns to the IRS under the names of the identity theft victims. Members of the conspiracy allegedly established mailing addresses, which were used to receive the refunds sent through the U.S. Mail as United States Treasury checks. According to the indictment, the defendants took the fraudulently obtained checks to various “check cashers,” who took their own “cuts” before providing cash to the defendants.

“Identity theft is one of the nation’s fastest growing crimes, and it impacts more and more Americans every year,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “This Los Angeles-based crime ring is alleged to have combined identity theft with tax fraud to create an intrusive and sophisticated scheme designed to victimize more than 1,800 individuals and to defraud the United States Government out of millions of dollars.”

                                                                                     

Richard Weber, Chief of IRS - Criminal Investigation, stated: “These individuals demonstrated a blatant disregard for the integrity of the United States tax system and caused immeasurable hardship to innocent victims. IRS - Criminal Investigation remains committed to the pursuit of identity theft and, together with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office, we will hold those who engage in similar conduct accountable.”

Those taken into custody this morning are:
• Ashot Karapetian, 47, of North Hollywood;
• Suren “Sonny” Gambaryan, 33, of North Hollywood;
• Artak “Max” Berberyan, 33, of Van Nuys;
• Vigen “Vic” Tsaturyan, 47, of Sun Valley;
• Armen “Roman” Berberyan, 33, of Van Nuys; and
• Arman Zargaryan, 30, of Granada Hills.

These defendants are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in federal court in Santa Ana, where this case will be litigated.

Additionally, two defendants named in the indictment are currently being sought be authorities. They are:! Akop “Jack” Kantrdzyan, 33, of Sylmar; and
! David Samsonyan, also known as “Little Guy,” 31, of Winnetka.

According to the indictment, members of the scheme obtained 1,844 stolen identities. Many of the stolen identities came from retired individuals and residents of homeless shelters, some of whom had not filed federal income tax returns in years. In an effort to conceal their activities, the indictment alleges that the conspirators used coded language to refer to Treasury checks, referred to each other by nickname, and used false home addresses on their own driver’s licenses and other identity documents, and used third-party “straw buyers” to purchase property for the defendants’ own use.

The indictment specifically alleges that members of the conspiracy filed at least 2,977 false federal income tax returns (Forms 1040) with the IRS that fraudulentlymclaimed a total of $19,324,632 in refunds. The IRS paid out approximately $9,952,077mbased on the false and fraudulently filed 1040 Form tax returns.

“Today’s arrests are a clear warning that anyone who steals the identities of innocent taxpayers to file fraudulent income tax returns for personal profit will be aggressively pursued, investigated and prosecuted,” said Claude Arnold, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Los Angeles. “These crimes are pure theft, and they victimize us all.
HSI will continue to use its unique investigative authorities to identify and dismantle these harmful schemes.”

The indictment contains charges of conspiracy, theft of government money, mail fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft, cashing government checks with forged signatures. All eight defendants are charged in the conspiracy count, and each are charged in various mail fraud counts. If convicted, each defendant would face a statutory maximum penalty of at least 45 years in federal prison.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime.  Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.

In addition to the six defendants named in the tax fraud case who were arrested this morning, authorities took into custody another two individuals on unrelated charges.

Those also arrested this morning are:
• Armine Nazaryan, 41, of North Hollywood, who was indicted on charges of making false statements to HSI agents; and
• Spartak Karapetian, 23, of North Hollywood, the son of Ashot Karpetian, who was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Operation National Treasure was an investigation conducted by IRS - Criminal Investigation and HSI, which received substantial assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department.

CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Todd T. Tristan
(714) 338-3500

Release No. 13-027

United States Attorney Central District of California / February 27, 2013

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