It is an unfortunate fact of life that tax fraud occurs close to home in the towns and cities of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. While we may expect there to be some level of tax fraud in densely populated areas, however unfortunate it may be, we generally do not expect to find sophisticated international tax and identity theft schemes occurring in our own backyard. Unfortunately, according to federal investigators from IRS criminal Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the FBI a sophisticated scheme that utilized mailboxes and bank accounts based in cities throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties was underway prior to recent enforcement action.
This alleged stolen identity tax return fraud (SIRF) scheme utilized sophisticated methods to accomplish its goals of fraudulently obtaining false tax refunds. In all, the IRS has stated that it has identified at least 7,000 false tax returns attributed to this scheme totaling roughly $38 million in fraudulent returns. Of the $38 million dollars requested, the IRS paid out approximately $14 million dollars to mailing addresses and bank accounts opened in locations throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties. Cities where bank accounts and mailboxes were fraudulently obtainedinclude Alhambra, Azusa, Covina, Cypress, Encino, Glendale, La Habra, Montebello, Newport Beach, North Hollywood, Rowland Heights, and Temple City.
One reason why the tax scheme was so sophisticated is the fact that the alleged conspirators made use of fraudulent passports to further their scheme. The passports included the name and personal information of identity theft victims but were altered to include the alleged conspirators’ photographs.The ability to convincingly counterfeit passports from a number of eastern European nations shows a reasonably high level of sophistication.
It is essential to note that all individuals charged in connection with this stolen identity tax return fraud scheme are presumed innocent until the government can carry its burden and they are determined to be guilty by a jury of their peers. Criminal charges are merely allegations.
The individuals charged in the matter and arrested are:
• Eduard Astvatsatryan, 34, of Glendale – Prosecutors charge that Astvatsatryanopened at least 17 bank accounts and 14 mailbox addresses using fraudulent Armenian passports.
• Hripsime Avagyan, 24, of Burbank – Federal prosecutors allege that Avagyan who opened at least 6 bank accounts and 7 mailbox addresses in using fraudulent Armenian passports.
• Armen Mkrtchyan, 46, of Glendale – Faces charges of allegedly opening at least two bank accounts and two mailbox addresses using fraudulent Armenian passports.
• Sargis “Sergio” Tabadzhyan, 54, of West Hollywood – Is accused of opening at least 13 bank accounts and seven mailbox addresses using fraudulent Armenian passports.
• ArtashStepanyan, 31, of Glendale –Is alleged to have opened at least 14 bank accounts and 6 mailbox addresses using fraudulent Armenian and Georgian passports.
Aside from these individuals who have already been arrested and made their initial court appearance at a U.S. federal courthouse in Santa Ana, three identified suspects have yet to be located and two additional alleged conspirators have yet to be identified. Individuals accused of participating in the tax fraud and identity theft scheme who have yet to be arrested are:
• MkhitarMkrtchyan, 43, of Sylmar – Prosecutors claim that Mkrtchyanopened at least 2 bank accounts and 2 mailbox addresses using fraudulent Armenian passports.
• Karen Pogosian, 45, of Sun Valley – Federal prosecutors charge Pogosian allegedly opened at least 2 bank accounts and 2 mailbox addresses making use of fraudulent Armenian passports.
• Konstantin Galstyan, 23, of Sylmar – Federal prosecutors charge that Galstyanallegedly opened at least 4 bank accounts and 2 mailbox addresses in different identities using fraudulent Armenian passports.
In regards to the allegations against the defendantsUnited States Attorney Eileen M. Decker stated that “Stolen identity refund fraud schemes are a growing problem that victimizes both the United States government and individuals who have tax returns fraudulently filed in their names.” Decker pledged that the government would continue to allocate additional resources to the problem and work to “pursue organizations that engage in this type of fraud.” While this raid on an allegedly criminal tax conspiracy was focused in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, federal investigators and prosecutors are undoubtedly working nationwide to identify and prosecute individuals who allegedly participate in SIRF schemes. Individuals accused of participating in tax fraud schemes can face lengthy federal prison sentences and other severe consequences.