By Mary O’KEEFE
Wednesday morning began at about 5 a.m. on the normally quiet street in La Crescenta with dogs barking, people yelling and FBI agents with rifles rushing toward a home.
“We went outside and it was crazy. It was like a movie,” said Debi Devens of her early morning FBI wake up call.
What Devens found out later was that her neighbor, Jacob Pogosian, 35, was one of the dozens of people simultaneously arrested across five states by federal authorities.
More than 50 arrests were made from New York to California of alleged members of an Armenian-American organized crime ring that are suspected of defrauding the Medicare system of more than $160 million. Over all, 73 defendants who are alleged members and associates of the organized crime operation were charged in indictments that were unsealed on Wednesday.
“These [arrests] are very significant,” said Laura Eimiller, FBI spokeswoman.
In this case individuals “would obtain the stolen identities of physicians to enroll as providers in the Medicare program, which requires a medical doctor’s name, social security number and date of birth.
Using the stolen physician identities, applications to become providers were submitted applications to Medicare. The defendants would then open fraudulent bank accounts into which Medicare could transfer fraudulent claims. These bank accounts were opened in either the name of the physician whose identity had been stolen, a business or in the name of a co-conspirator,” according to an FBI, press release.
There were 32 people arrested during morning raids, 17 of those were in Glendale, said Sgt. Tom Lorenz, Glendale Police Department.
Glendale police were one of the agencies that assisted the FBI in the case.
“This was a complex case,” Eimiller said.
She added that the fraud cases like this are difficult because the defendants set up fake medical offices and fraudulent bank accounts then after awhile will pull up stakes and begin another fake office.
“Jacob [Pogosian] had told us he worked at a medical office,” said Linda Hall, another neighbor.
Hall and her husband were asleep early Wednesday morning when their 20-month-old Labrador began to bark.
“We had [someone] stealing from our cars [recently]. The last time our lab barked and I ignored it, someone broke into one of our cars. So I got up and looked out our window,” Hall said.
From her second story she could see several cars parked on her street all facing the wrong direction.
“Then I looked at Jacob’s house. I heard ‘bang, bang, bang FBI’,” she said.
Pogosian and his family emptied out into the driveway. Hall saw them handcuff Pogosian and then walk into the house.
“The FBI were in full battle attire, with rifles drawn. One of the agents was carrying a bullet shield in front of him. I think he was the first to go to the door,” Hall said.
Hall said after a while an agent handcuffed Pogosian, put him into a car and they all drove off.
Pogosian had lived in the neighborhood for about eight years. Neighbors described him as a not too friendly man. There had been some dispute over property lines and construction. He had wanted to expand his home but his design permit was denied by the city of Glendale and many neighbors would not sign a petition allowing the expansion.
Neighbors did comment on the fact that he appeared to have a lot of money but they were still surprised at the morning raid in their quiet neighborhood.
Charges against those arrested include Racketeering Conspiracy, Conspiracy to Commit Health Care Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering and Conspiracy to Commit Immigration Fraud.