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November 10, 2014

Armenian Power Leader Sentenced to 32 Years in Prison for Racketeering, Extortion, and Fraud Offenses

WASHINGTON—A leader of the Armenian Power gang, who was convicted at trial of 57 counts for his role in a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion, bank fraud, and a sophisticated credit and debit card skimming scheme, was sentenced today to 32 years in prison.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura of the Central District of California made the announcement.

Mher Darbinyan, aka “Hollywood Mike” and “Capone,” 39, of Valencia, California, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner of the Central District of California.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Darbinyan was a leader of Armenian Power, a gang responsible for extortion, firearms offenses, fraud, and identity theft throughout the Los Angeles-area. Among other activities, Darbinyan operated a sophisticated bank fraud scheme that used middlemen and runners to deposit and cash hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks drawn on the accounts of elderly bank customers and businesses. Separately, Darbinyan also organized and operated a sophisticated debit card skimming operation targeting customers of 99 Cents Only Stores across Southern California. This expansive scheme involved the installation and use of skimmers to steal thousands of customers’ debit card numbers and PIN codes.

Evidence at trial also showed that Darbinyan conspired to extort money from a member of the Armenian community by threatening violence against the victim and his family members. On two separate occasions, Darbinyan also possessed firearms and ammunition after having previously been convicted of felony grand theft for his role in a 2004 debit card fraud scheme.

Darbinyan was among 90 individuals charged in 2011 in two indictments targeting Armenian Power. To date, 87 individuals have been convicted. Two defendants are fugitives, and prosecutors dismissed charges against one defendant.

According to evidence presented during the Armenian Power trials, the Armenian Power street gang formed in the East Hollywood district of Los Angeles in the 1980s. The gang’s membership consisted primarily of individuals of Armenian descent, as well as of other countries within the former Soviet bloc. Armenian Power has been designated under California state law as a criminal street gang and is believed to have more than 250 documented members, as well as hundreds of associates. According to evidence presented during the Armenian Power trials, Armenian Power members and associates regularly carry out violent criminal acts, including murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, robberies, extortions, and witness intimidation to enrich its members and associates and preserve and enhance the power of the criminal enterprise.

The trial evidence also showed that Armenian Power leaders worked closely with powerful organized crime figures in Russia and Armenia, known as “thieves-in-law,” and members of the Mexican Mafia prison gang to commit criminal activities in the Los Angeles area and elsewhere.

These cases were investigated by the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, which is comprised of the FBI, Glendale Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Burbank Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Secret Service. The Huntington Beach Police Department and Beverly Hills Police Department provided assistance.

The cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Andrew Creighton of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Yang of the Central District of California.

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