InformationWeek reports that federal authorities have announced the arrest of 99 people as part of a five-year long investigation into the “Armenian Power” organized crime ring. These people scammed, stole, extorted, kidnapped, committed bank fraud, healthcare fraud, drug trafficking, and more, to the tune of over $20 million from their victims. Authorities said the roughly 200 person gang, “consists primarily of individuals whose heritage goes back to Armenia and other Eastern Bloc countries,” began as an East Hollywood street gang in the ’80s.
In one 134-count indictment, 29 people were accused of participating in a conspiracy that violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The RICO charge alleges a host of illegal activities, some of which are sophisticated white-collar crimes such as identity theft, credit card skimming, and manufacturing counterfeit checks. The gang skimmed hundreds of credit and debit card numbers after installing skimmers on cash registers in ’99 Cents Only’ stores across southern California. They then created fake cards using this information to steal a cool $2 million. A 99 Cents Only store manager had noticed that credit and debit card transactions were not clearing properly and alerted authorities, who arrested two people attempting to remove credit card skimming devices from cash registers.
In the second indictment, 20 people were charged with targeting elderly people’s bank accounts. Members of the Armenian Power organization working in conjunction with members of African-American street gangs, bribed bank insiders to gather information allowing them to take over accounts and cause losses of at least $10 million.