Armenian Power (AP13 or WSAP13 (West Side Armenian Power)) is a hierarchical criminal community formed in Los Angeles in the 2000s on the basis of a street gang of the same name. Youth combat unit Armenian Power was created in the 1980s as a street gang in West Hollywood neighborhood Little Armenia to protect Armenian immigrants from the Latino organized crime. Armenian Power has morphed over the years into a well-armed and structured criminal organization specializing mostly in drug trafficking, killings, robberies, extortion, kidnapping, and illegal gambling. In the late 1990s, the signature features of Armenian Power were street killings of rivals from moving cars. According to the police, the gang has committed at least 10 such murders. Currently the Armenian Power headquarters are located in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb whose population is 70% Armenian. According to various estimations, the manpower of Armenian Power is 250 to 2 thousand members. In addition to alliances with Mexican and Afro-American criminal groups, Armenian Power is also known for its strong ties with the Russian criminal world, including thieves in law.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Grisha Sayadyan was among the 10 people arrested for an attempted theft of $17 million from Medicare (the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older). It is necessary to note that the scheme of the crime committed in 2010 by a group consisting of eight Armenians and two Russians was very similar to the scheme described 7 years later in the indictment against 66-year-old Sayadyan who has relocated by that time from Glendale to adjacent Burbank.
The scheme worked in the following way: individuals would obtain the stolen identities of physicians to enroll as providers in the Medicare program and personal information of elderly people covered by it. The defendants would then open fake clinics by leasing office space or renting a post office box.
Other defendants would then open fraudulent bank accounts in the name of the clinics and doctors whose information had been stolen into which the federal program could transfer fraudulent claims. As the Medicare funds were received, they were withdrawn immediately and laundered via a chain of ‘friendly’ persons. Prior to the fraud exposure by the law enforcement authorities, the criminal group involving Sayadyan managed to steal $8 million from Medicare.
It is necessary to note that this amount is only a small portion of the damage sustained by the federal program due to the major scam – the total losses of Medicare from similar fraudulent actions in 25 states have been estimated at $163 million. The criminal case involving Sayadyan was a part of major operation “Diagnosis Dollars” carried out by the FBI and police. In total, 73 suspects have been indicted in the framework of this operation; 52 of them were remanded in custody. In addition, operation “Diagnosis Dollars” was the first severe blow delivered by the American law enforcement authorities to an ethnic organized crime syndicate known as Armenian Power.
Thief in law Armen ‘Pzo’ Kazarian, born in 1964, was ‘crowned’ in 1991 in Rostov-on-Don. Long before this, he became famous as a leader of a large organized criminal group in Yerevan. Russian law enforcement authorities suspect ‘Pzo’ of masterminding the murder of two Armenian ‘thieves-in-law’ – ‘Abo’ and ‘Leva’ – gunned down on the Rostov–Moscow highway in December 1993. In 1995, Armen Kazarian was nearly killed in Moscow when a sniper shot dead criminal ‘authority’ Ishkhan Sarkisyan standing near him. Since 1996, Kazarian has been residing in the U.S. According to some information, ‘Pzo’ maintains friendly relations with Sashik Sargsyan, a brother of the Armenian President, and supervises his business projects in America, including Glendale Hills Development Company specializing in construction in California.
After the exposure of the Medicare fraud by the FBI, 78 suspects have been charged with financial fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and illegal tobacco trade. For the totality of the charges laid, Kazarian was facing a life term, but he made a deal with the investigation and pled guilty to racketeering conspiracy. As a result, ‘Pzo’ was sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 37 months in prison, fine of $60 thousand, and confiscation of property, including a home in California worth $600 thousand. Taking into account the time spent by Kazarian in custody prior to the trial, in September of the same year, he has been released. Another member of the Armenian diaspora has contributed to such a lucky outcome of that story – criminal defense lawyer Mark John Geragos, a friend of famous lawyer Robert Kardashian, father of Kim Kardashian. Then David Mirzoyan, who used to oversee the gang’s activities on the U.S. West Coast, has also admitted his guilt in exchange for a mitigation of sentence.
After delivering the first devastating blow to Armenian Power, the American law enforcement authorities have carried out another massive operation dubbed “Power Outage” in February 2011. Over one thousand policemen, operatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and FBI agents had participated in its. More than ten sophisticated fraud schemes enriching ‘Armenian mafia’ at the expense of taxpayers and businesses have been uncovered.
Over 90 active members of Armenian Power, including both ‘white-collar’ swindlers and street fighters, were arrested and charged with various offences. Several gang leaders have been detained and indicted for extortion, including Mher Darbinyan, aka ‘Hollywood Mike’, ‘Capone’, and ‘Caps’, Rafael ‘Raffo’ Parsadanyan, and Arman ‘Kon’ (Horse) Sharopetrosyan.
In the framework of the first swindling operation, several million dollars were stolen from clients of Bank of America, Citibank, and other financial institutions. Associates of Darbinyan were stealing customers’ personal information using sophisticated tricks, including video cameras installed in the banks, and then forged their personal cheques and cashed hundreds of thousands of dollars. The other fraud targeted customers of 99 Cents Only Stores. The malefactors had purchased POS-terminals identical to those used in 99 Cents Only, installed reading devices on those and replaced the original terminals in the stores with the skimmers for several days. Then the criminals retrieved their skimmers with thousands of customers’ debit card numbers and PIN codes, cloned the cards, and withdrew at least 2 million dollars from the client’s accounts.
Mher Darbinyan was found guilty on 57 counts. He was facing a total prison term of 973.5 years, but ultimately the court has sentenced the leader of Armenian Power to 32 years behind bars. This seems a pretty large term, too – but Darbinyan had earlier forged a strategic relationship with La eMe, the Californian most powerful prison gang also known as ‘Mexican mafia’. Therefore, members of Armenian Power feel themselves safe in jails and as comfortable as at liberty. It is known that ‘Hollywood Mike’, jointly with La eMe, had established an uninterrupted supply of drugs and cell phones to penitentiary institutions of California.
Surprisingly, but the status of a ‘whistleblower’ hasn’t ruined the life of Minas Matosyan. LA Weekly wrote in 2014 that he had voluntarily refused to ‘disappear’ under the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program and continued living normal life – although watching his back from time to time. Meanwhile, users of Armenian forums in California were noting that Mher Darbinyan had never blamed Matosyan for his arrest – he was well aware of the true reasons behind it. An anonymous user suggested that while being in detention, Darbinyan may receive the lion’s share of proceeds from illegal sales of prescription narcotics fraudulently acquired by the group of ‘Maserati Mike’. No one can say whether this is true or not – but should Darbinyan really have hard feelings against Matosyan, the witness who had ‘turned in’ the boss of ‘Armenian mafia’ to the FBI wouldn’t survive a day in Burbank or Glendale where every second resident has friendly, business, or family ties with Armenian Power.
And this Boys and Girls is a look at Little Armenia. The second strongest lobby group in America. Remember this the next time you go to vote. These people are living on your tax dollar both here and in Armenia.