Home San Diego Press Releases 2013 FBI Seeks Fugitives from International Organized Fraud Ring

FBI Seeks Fugitives from International Organized Fraud Ring
Over 200 FBI Agents Involved in Nationwide Takedown; Leader of Scheme Being Sought

FBI San Diego October 03, 2013
  • Darrell Foxworth (858) 320-8302

The FBI is seeking the public’s assistance to locate three fugitives being sought as part of an international organized tax and bank fraud ring. The three fugitives were charged along with 52 other co-conspirators under four federal grand jury indictments involving the theft of more than 3,500 identities that were used to claim more than $27 million in fraudulent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax refunds of which the IRS paid out more than $7 million. A total of 55 people were charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.

On Thursday, September 26, 2013, over 200 FBI agents, with support from the IRS Criminal Investigative Division (CID) and other agencies conducted a nationwide takedown, arrested 24 people in the Los Angeles area, with other arrests occurring in Baltimore, New York, Las Vegas, and San Diego. As of October 3, 2013, 31 subjects have been arrested.

On this same day the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California, San Diego, announced the unsealing of four federal grand jury indictments charging 55 people of participating in multiple complex schemes involving aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. The indictments represent the culmination of over two years of investigative work by the FBI and IRS.

Investigation into this matter was initiated by the FBI in 2011, after the FBI became aware of a scheme involving foreign nationals from former Soviet bloc countries travelling to the United States under visas who then became involved in fraudulent schemes to defraud the U.S. government and federally insured banks. Subsequent investigation by the FBI, IRS, and U.S. Attorney’s Office resulted in the filing of four federal indictments charging 55 people with various federal charges including, conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.

The complex schemes are explained in four separate indictments as follows:

The primary indictment charges 29 people with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering charges. The charges emanate from over 2,000 fraudulent tax returns being filed. The co-conspirators filed two types of fraudulent returns—(1) those that claimed refunds from fabricated gambling winnings and losses and (2) those based on made-up wages and withholdings. The returns sought $17 million in undeserved refunds.

This scheme involved the participation of approximately two dozen San Diego-based foreign nationals from former Soviet bloc countries—including Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan—who were visiting San Diego using J-1 and F-1 visas. The visas allow foreigners to come to the United States for a short period of time to study, work, and travel.

However, instead of studying or working, the foreign nationals allegedly worked primarily as foot soldiers for criminal organizations operating in Los Angeles. Leaders of the identity theft ring, many of whom are Armenian nationals or Armenian-American, exploited the popular student visa program in part because the visa holders would not be in the United States long. In fact, most have since returned to their countries.

While in San Diego, the foreign nationals rented apartments, opened post office boxes and bank accounts at the San Diego branches of Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and collected fraudulent tax refunds through the receipt of refund checks and direct deposits from the U.S. Treasury.

The indictment alleges the co-conspirators employed sophisticated methods to cover their tracks. For instance, they took steps to disguise their Internet protocol (IP) addresses when filing tax returns electronically. In addition, they used code language when communicating and referred to each other only by nicknames, such as “Anaconda.” They used prepaid cell phones which they changed on a regular basis.

A second indictment charges three people who are accused of filing more than 400 false returns using stolen identities which claimed more than $3 million in fraudulent refunds. Armen Eritsian and Hovhannes Harutyunyan are the alleged leaders of the scheme.

A third indictment charges eight people, led by Hovakim Sogomonian and Harout Gevorgyan, and describes an elaborate ruse in which defendants obtained bank account and other personal information about wealthy Wells Fargo customers and then sent imposters to branches to withdraw large sums of money. The imposters altered their appearances with haircuts and new clothes and prepared by role-playing. In all, they attempted to withdraw more than $3 million and succeeded in obtaining $551,842. The imposters instructed tellers to wire large sums of money to the account of a gold dealer and then they picked up gold coins from the dealer and delivered them to the other defendants.

Finally, a fourth indictment charges 18 defendants, led by Karen Galstian and Vahag Stepanyan, with a scheme to defraud Bank of America of more than $600,000 by writing bad checks.

The FBI is seeking the public’s assistance to locate the following fugitives:

Hovhannes Harutyunyan (10/3/13)

  • Hovhannes Harutyunyan, aka Hovo, aka Anaconda, aka Snake, aka Cobra, aka Oz
  • 34 years old
  • 5’10”
  • 170 pounds
  • Brown hair
  • Brown eyes
  • Armenian citizen—diversified LPR
  • Last known address: Burbank, California

Yermek Dossymbekov (10/3/13)

  • Yermek Dossymbekov
  • 23 years old
  • 5’8”
  • 150 pounds
  • Black hair
  • Brown eyes
  • Last known address: Los Angeles, California

Alisher Omarov (10/3/13)

  • Alisher Omarov
  • 25 years old
  • 5’8”
  • 150 pounds
  • Black hair
  • Brown eyes
  • Last known address: Los Angeles, California

Anyone with information concerning the whereabouts of the above fugitives is asked to contact the FBI at telephone number (858) 320-1800.

The public is reminded that an indictment itself is not evidence that the defendants com-mitted the crimes charged. The defendants are presumed innocent until the government meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.