SANTA ANA — Two men behind a massive identity-theft conspiracy that was hatched and operated from a prison and victimized more than 500 people were sentenced today to 25 years in federal prison.
The conspiracy caused at least $8 million in losses, according to federal prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter handed down the sentences today for Angus Brown, 36, and Arman Sharopetrosian, 33, of Burbank.
The two were convicted earlier this year of spearheading the identity theft ring, which included Armenian and black street gang members, while the defendants were serving time in Avenal State Prison.
Sharopetrosian’s wife, Kristine Ogandzhanyan, was also convicted in March of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, two counts of attempted bank fraud and court counts of aggravated identity theft.
The husband and wife were tried in a combination jury and bench trial before Carter that also led to convictions for co-defendants Keren Markosian and Artush Margaryan, whose case was the only one decided by jury.
In March, Carter said he was “astounded by the sophistication” of the conspiracy, which came to light to federal authorities during an investigation of organized crime among Armenian Americans.
As a result of that investigation, authorities were able to obtain a wiretap on cellphones smuggled into Avenal State Prison for Sharopetrosian, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph McNally.
The identity theft scheme victimized residents in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, as well as Arizona, Texas and Nevada, McNally said.
The indictment named 20 defendants, 15 of whom pleaded guilty, including Brown.
Sharopetrosian and Brown met as cellmates in the prison during the summer of 2009. The two had a background in identity theft so they teamed up, according to McNally, who said the two started with a check-ordering scheme.
Bank employees paid low salaries were bribed to turn over personal information of customers so the crooks could bypass the first line of security by answering questions such as a mother’s maiden name, McNally said.
Others were hired to intercept the checks, usually mailed overnight, from mailboxes before customers could retrieve them, McNally said.
Ogandzhanyan forged signatures, copies of which were obtained from public records such as marriage licenses, McNally said.
Sharopetrosian got the phones smuggled into the prison while Brown called banks to order the checks, McNally said. Sharopetrosian even got his elderly mother involved in the scheme by forging checks, according to the prosecutor.
The checks would be deposited in accounts established in the names of other Armenians who moved back to Armenia from the U.S., so if something went wrong it would be difficult to trace the money to the culprits, McNally said.
The conspiracy even involved forwarding phone calls from unsuspecting victims so the thieves could intercept any calls from the bank about large checks, he said.
Sharopetrosian also faces a racketeering indictment by a Los Angeles federal grand jury and is awaiting trial, Mrozek said.
Many of the other co-defendants in the identity theft conspiracy await sentencing, Mrozek said.