Two men behind a massive, sophisticated, $8 million identity-theft conspiracy hatched and operated from a California state prison were sentenced Friday 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.
Part of the scheme was to to bribe employees at Orange County, CA banks for information on more than 500 people. The identity theft scheme victimized residents in southern California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada.
At Friday’s sentencing, United States District Judge David O. Carter in Santa Ana called the crime one of 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.
During the investigation, authorities obtained a wiretap on cell phones smuggled into Avenal State Prison for Sharopetrosian, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph McNally.
How it worked
Here's how the scheme worked, according to the prosecutor, court documents and evidence at Sharopetrosian's trial last spring:
Sharopetrosian and Brown organized a scheme that misappropriated bank information primarily from elderly victims, then forged victims’ signatures and deposited fat checks into accounts set up by members of the conspiracy.
Brown and Sharopetrosian met as cellmates in the prison during the summer of 2009. The two had a background in identity theft so they teamed up, starting 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.
Others were hired to intercept the checks, usually mailed overnight, from mailboxes before customers could retrieve them.
Sharopetrosian got the phones smuggled into the prison while Brown called banks to order the checks. Sharopetrosian even got his elderly mother involved in the scheme by forging checks.
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.
The conspiracy even involved forwarding phone calls from unsuspecting victims so the thieves could intercept any calls from the bank about large checks.
Sharopetrosian also faces a racketeering indictment by a Los Angeles federal grand jury and is awaiting trial.
The indictment named 20 defendants, 15 of whom pleaded guilty, including Brown. Many of the other co-defendants in the identity theft conspiracy await sentencing.
Editor's note: City News Service contributed to this report, which was previously was published by Fountain Valley Patch in California. "OC Patch Staff" refers to Patch staff in Orange County, CA.