Two leaders of the Armenian Power gang were convicted on April 17 of participating in a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion, firearms offenses, bank fraud and identity theft targeting elderly bank customers.
The defendants were also convicted of creating a sophisticated credit and debit card skimming scheme that stole account numbers and personal identification numbers from thousands of people who used their cards at 99 Cents Only Stores in Southern California.
Concluding a four-week trial, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against Mher “Capone” Darbinyan and Arman “Horse” Sharopetrosian. Rafael Parsadanyan, an associate of the gang, was also convicted for his role in the 99 Cents Only Stores skimming scheme.
Darbinyan, 38, of Valencia, was found guilty of 57 criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, extortion, bank fraud, access device fraud conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. According to the evidence presented at trial, Darbinyan was a leader of Armenian Power who participated in extortions, firearms offenses, frauds and identity theft, and repeatedly engaged in criminal activities with members of the Mexican Mafia prison gang.
Darbinyan operated a sophisticated bank fraud scheme that used co-conspirators to deposit and cash hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks drawn on the accounts of elderly bank customers and businesses. Darbinyan also organized and operated a sophisticated debit card skimming operation targeting customers of the discount chain 99 Cents Only Stores. This expansive scheme involved installation of skimmers in stores that were used to steal customers’ debit card numbers and PIN codes.
Prosecutors alleged Darbinyan also conspired to extort and extorted funds from a member of the Armenian community using threats of violence against the victim and his family members. Darbinyan, on two separate occasions, possessed firearms and ammunition after having previously been convicted of felony grand theft for his role in a 2004 debit card fraud scheme. At sentencing, Darbinyan will face a statutory maximum penalty of 973 years in federal prison.
Sharopetrosian, 35, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy and extortion. The evidence at trial showed that while Sharopetrosian was incarcerated in Avenal State Prison in 2009, he used smuggled cell phones to direct the extortion of a member of the Armenian community. Sharopetrosian worked together with Darbinyan and others to carry out the extortion over a period of six months, at one point even arranging the kidnapping at gunpoint of the victim in order to hasten the extortion payments. Sharopetrosian also threatened to kill and kidnap the victim to coerce the victim into paying him more than $100,000. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison.
Parsadanyan, 29, of Los Angeles, was convicted of 14 counts of bank fraud for his role in the 99 Cents Only Store scheme. The evidence at trial showed that Parsadanyan assisted Darbinyan by collecting and storing proceeds of the fraud scheme, including delivering approximately $34,000 in criminal proceeds to a co-conspirator. Each count of bank fraud carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison. According to court documents, the Armenian Power street gang formed in the East Hollywood area of Los Angeles in the 1980s.
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