By Ted AYALA
The Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force (EOCTF) – a group comprised of nine different law enforcement agencies including the Los Angeles County Sheriffs and the police departments of Glendale and Los Angeles – conducted a massive sweep against local organized crime yesterday morning Feb. 16. Their target was the Armenian Power (AP) gang, a criminal organization that was founded in the 1980s and is deeply entrenched in the communities of Glendale and Hollywood.
Two federal indictments in addition to an indictment issued by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office altogether charges 99 members and associates of AP with a variety of crimes spanning violent and white-collar crimes. Financial losses due to these crimes total over $10 million in Los Angeles County alone.
Attending the press conference organized by EOCTF were United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr., Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Steven M. Martinez, Burbank Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Acting Special-in-Charge of the Criminal Investigation Branch of the IRS Joel Garland, and Glendale Police Chief Ron de Pompa. They discussed the sweep and the allegations being pressed against the defendants.
“The 213 page [Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)] indictment alleges that [AP] is concerned with expanding its power and enriching its members through any number of criminal offenses including kidnapping, extortion, and narcotics trafficking,” said Birotte. “The indictment also alleges that members of [AP] were involved in a number of highly sophisticated white-collar crimes such as identity theft, credit card skimming, and the manufacturing of counterfeit checks.”
One particular allegation was noted as “particularly disturbing” by Birotte “because of the greatness of its impact on everyday shoppers.”
“The [RICO] indictment alleges that members of [AP] victimized hundreds of customers, causing at least $2 million in losses by installing credit card skimmers at 99 Cent Only Stores across Southern California. … By secretly installing these credit card skimmers at store cash registers, members of [AP] obtained information to manufacture thousands of false credit and ATM cards … and used them to make massive withdrawals.
“The [RICO] indictment targeting [AP] provides a window into a group that [is] willing to do anything and everything to make a profit. Through the extortion and kidnappings that are alleged in the indictment, [AP] has shown a willingness to generate by victimizing members of its own community.”
Breuer added that EOCTF’s actions “represent the largest law enforcement action to date against [AP]” and noted that the gang’s influence has grown exponentially over the past two decades, forming alliances with other criminal organizations such as the Mexican Mafia. “[AP’s] alleged ties transcend prison walls and international borders, reaching all the way back to the former Soviet bloc.”
“Violence is never off the table for this group,” said Breuer citing an allegation of kidnapping of a local businessman as evidence. “[They] demanded $500,000 for his release and even allegedly joked that [the victim] might die of a heart attack because he was so scared.”
De Pompa reaffirmed the threat that AP has, not only globally but also within the city of Glendale. “Even though we’re talking about a very large, trans-national criminal organization … I do want to remind everybody that it has a significant local impact. Victims suffer at the local level. It’s our residents that suffer from identity theft, fraud, forgery, credit fraud, kidnappings, witness intimidation … and these crimes ultimately degrade the level of public safety our residents enjoy.” Chief de Pompa further stated his concern that AP’s alliance with other criminal organizations creates a “new animal that law enforcement has to deal with” and “represents a significant public safety threat to [Glendale] going forward.”
“We need to send a strong message that these criminal elements will not be tolerated in Glendale,” the chief said.
Birotte explained that this sweep was “a significant first step in dismantling and disrupting this dangerous criminal organization.”
The defendants in the RICO indictment, if convicted, will face up to 20 years in federal prison for their offenses. Those charged in narcotics related offenses will face a minimum 10 year sentence.
Pasadena resident Mark Schoen happened to be in the vicinity as the press conference let out. Himself a victim of identity theft, he praised EOCTF’s work as “good news.”
“The people who commit these crimes have a real impact on their victims,” said Schoen. “As for me, the identity theft I had to suffer will continue to affect me for the next 30 years in the form of a higher interest rate on my mortgage. Identity theft isn’t petty theft. I hope they throw the book at these crooks.”