Two men behind a massive $8 million identity-theft conspiracy hatched and operated from a prison to bribe employees at Orange County banks for information on more than 500 people were sentenced today to 25 years in federal prison.
Angus Brown, also known as “Homicide,” 36, and Arman Sharopetrosian, also known as “Horse,” 33, were both in a California state prison when they used bank information to defraud hundreds of elderly victims in Orange and neighboring counties, according to prosecutors.
At today’s sentencing, United States District Judge David O. Carter in Santa Ana called the crime the most sophisticated fraud schemes he had ever seen, according to the Department of Justice.
Brown and Sharopetrosian were the lead defendants in one of two federal indictments that targeted the Armenian Power gang two years ago. According to the fraud indictment issued by a grand jury in Orange County, members of Armenian Power worked with members of African-American street gangs and bribed bank insiders at Bank of America, Chase Bank, Wells Fargo and Citibank locations in Orange County.
According to court documents and the evidence presented at Sharopetrosian’s trial last spring, Sharopetrosian and Brown organized a scheme that misappropriated bank information from primarily elderly victims, then forged victims’ signatures and deposited high-dollar checks into accounts set up by members of the conspiracy.
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.
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.
- City News Service contributed to this report.